My father taught me to fire a gun
on my grandfatherís gold mine - north
of Manley, Alaska, the first time Iíd seen
him in twelve years. We carried rifles
for bears, for the mistrust of strangers
migrating iceward from the States.
I was accepted by the miners, the great-
grandson of a sourdough, already expert
in the yawning chasm between people
and land. My father fondled a revolver
like a man used to having his best
friend within armís reach. At daybreak,
we mounded mud with dozers and blasted
it down a sluice with freezing river water,
gold flakes catching in wooden slots
like the unformed words we swallowed.
My father was exotic on that northern
slope, as pungent and dark as blackberry wine
passing between loversí lips, the bottomless
sky we feel when we wake to ourselves.
At night, we gulped whiskey and slapped
mosquitoes, listening to grandpa rant about
the war that would one day engulf us all,
the sun refusing to die above the glaciers.
At dawn, we woke to a bear cub pawing
through the trash. Even I was not afraid.
My father unholstered his pistol and handed
it to me. I saw he wanted this connection
of death. Time was...just time. We were
separated by a distance no bullet to flesh
could span. I missed the shot on purpose,
the cub scampering into the underbrush.
My father stared at me in bewilderment,
then a glint of fear. We took the day off
from mining and drove dirt bikes into town,
where he introduced me as his son, the killer.