Long before dawn, I rose by Paddy's Lantern,
lit up my own and walked through miles of dew
with my striding shadow, adze and burlap bag
to check my traps. The woods were cold and deep,
the fence on the ridgeline tingled, wet with stars.
Away below, in a gully facing in
towards the dark, a stumphole fire glowed
but I looked away and went on with my round,
killing each rabbit with a practised chop
and dropping it, still straining, in my bag.
A winding course of unhurried killings led
me down the dark to my farthest trap, which lay
a short walk from the fire. Here I killed
one final time, and slung my heavy bag
to approach the blaze — as I had known I would.
Behind the black terrazzo of old heat
light glared from crumbling pits. Old roots are tough
but when they catch, their blinding rings inch deep
and rage for months and suck your breath away
if you kneel before them too long, peering in …
as I knew I had by the pallor of the sky.
Scrambling up to go, I told myself
no harm in this. I was just looking down
to see how far back the earth might be unsafe.
It wouldn't do to break through on such heat.
Budded with light on light, the butts of glare
in their fire-burrows were a deeper fact
that stared down my evasions, and I found
a rabbit in my hands and, in my mind,
an ancient thing. And it was quickly done.
Afterwards, I tramped the smoking crust
heavily in on fire, stench and beast
to seal them darkly under with my fear
and all the things my sacrifice might mean,
so hastily performed past all repair.