How to Skin a Rabbit

  1. When you skin a rabbit by hand, you start by holding it upside down by the back legs. You feel the thin bones and delicate sinew stretch downward, as gravity wants to bury the dead rabbit for you. Don’t let the earth bury the rabbit, but feel how thin it is. How breakable. Marvel at how such thin stalks of osteocytes, holding hands like so many desperately clinging roots, could have spent so long carrying a living thing around without letting go or giving up. Even now, they don’t give up. Don’t give up.
  2. Tear the skin just behind the rabbit’s ankles. It won’t be too hard– it’s like ripping a wet piece of cloth. Pinch and pull. Rabbit skin is thin, delicate, and it will not be too difficult for your hands to work the meat away from the hide. You will realize, once again, how fragile life is. Try to ignore the ugly thrill of power, wet and clinging to the underside of your ribs. You have taken this life. You have broken this skin. If you do nothing else in your life, you will still have done this. Let that be enough.
  3. Work your fingers between the hide and the muscle sliding beneath it. It should be warm and wet, and it will smell like iron and dirt. You will not be prepared for the smell, but try not to let it show on your face. Try to breathe through your mouth. If the bile rises to meet your lips, swallow vigorously. Concentrate on the way the birds have stopped screaming in the trees to watch you work.  Apologize over and over in your head to the rabbit and to god and to the birds who have been made to stand witness to this act. Some people leave the skin on the feet until later, like socks to keep it warm, but you shouldn’t do this. Work as much of the leg out through your tear as you can. It will be too hard for you to go back and clean this part up later. Don’t look into the rabbit’s eyes, wide and round with fear, even now when there is no light behind them. It will get easier.
  4. Tear the first strips of hide away. The meat underneath it will be pink and white and red and purple and it will look like a chicken leg from the supermarket if you look at it without looking at the rest of the rabbit. Worry that the small rocks and clumps of dirt on the table are hurting the rabbit. Like gravel in a skinned knee. Remember that the rabbit is dead. Remember that the rabbit is beyond pain and pleasure, at least as far as you know. Damnation waits for you like a red door as punishment for what you have done; for killing and ripping at an animal like this. Don’t pay any mind to this– just keep working.
  5. Now that you have the start of the leg free, it shouldn’t be too hard to take care of the rest. Pull the hide down towards the rabbit’s head. It will feel like pulling on a pair of pants or taking off a pair of gloves. Pretend that you are undressing a doll for some game. Imagine that you are a child and this is not about death and skin. Repeat on the other leg.
  6. Grab the rabbit by the slick pink ankles and pull the skin down along its back. It will be hard to work the flesh over the tail because the tail wants to be a tail, and not a stub of tissue, which is what it will become. Do your best, and if you tear the skin, do not cry. You cannot hurt the rabbit, no matter how many mistakes you make. It will sound like hair ripping out into a hairbrush and it will feel like the fur on the backs of the little animal figurines you can buy at gas stations along the highways filled with empty lanes and the smell of stale cigarettes. Be brave, you are almost done.
  7. Pull the skin off like a sweater, expose the long line of purple muscle, pale ribs like delicate bracelets will bend back to meet you. Use both hands. The rabbit is a cat arching its spine up toward your hands. Pull hard and fast. When the shaking of your hands causes the hide to come apart, still them by imagining that you are a scientist. Name what you know and assign constellations for what you don’t. Lumbar vertebrae, thoracic vertebrae, scapula, you’ve always been shit at muscles, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Cetus. Don’t think about Orion or Perseus or Hercules. Do not think about the moments that led you to undressing a rabbit. Think about the stars. Think about a small, lonely speck of dust hurtling through space, and how small that makes this death. It is so small, my darling. Don’t worry.
  8. There is a thin patch of skin between the rabbit’s arms and its head. You’re going to have to break this with your fingers. It won’t be too difficult. By now, your hands will know how to run gently along smooth skin, and the motion will be easy, if clumsy. By now you will be tired and you will just want to stop. Keep going. Pull harder.
  9. When the skin is pulled clean up to the rabbit’s head, turn it sideways, feel it in your hands. By now it will be cold and sticky. You will have dirt and fur stuck under your nails. Marvel at how small the rabbit is underneath all that skin and fur. It is so still. It is bare and laid before you and you are closer to the rabbit than its own flesh. It will be lighter than it was when you started, and gravity will ask very politely for the honor of claiming the rabbit. Do not give in to it. This is your rabbit now– more yours than any lover you will ever take and more yours than even any child you might someday have. You have taken the rabbit, seen the secrets of its skin, the small words it had kept hidden between its shoulder blades like prayers or constellations. You have beheld its ugliness and its greatness and you have offered neither forgiveness nor salvation in return. In this moment, you have become god. You have written your name on the red door and it is now your home, so walk through it and hold your rabbit like a newborn bride against your chest. Mourn its loss. Mourn who you were before you knew the snick snap of skin coming away into your hands. You have done it. You have won. Wash your hands.

Poem first appeared in the 2016 edition of Slippery Elm Literary Journal.

The Fire Poems, Part 6

6. I was going write a book on why I did it but decided to give it to you in poems instead because I’ve always been a coward.

This is my grocery list to you, my litany of lost things:
     Fragments of memory soaked in metaphor and Deeper Meaning (I’ve always been a bad poet)
          (I’m sorry this won’t be what you’re looking for)
          (I’m sorry I’ve hijacked your home for a fucking poem)
          (I’m sorry that it isn’t the first time I’ve done this)
          (I’m sorry that I’m always doing shit like this, selfish to my bones)
          (I’m sorry that it stinks like formaldehyde, but that’s the only way to keep these arteries from hardening, to keep these muscles soft and shining)
          (Fuck. I’m sorry that I just did it again)
          (I’m sorry I burned the house down)
          (I’m sorry you were inside)
          (I’m sorry you escaped)
     Everything you lost in the fire:
          Toothbrush – 1 yours, 1 mine
          T-shirts – More than 15, less than all of them
          Light bulbs – 22, not counting the one in the kitchen that was out
          Houseplants – 5, but they were going to die anyway
          Bowls – 5
          Candlesticks for fancy dinners you always meant to have but never got around to – 2 sets
          The books
               Actually, forget about the books
               Everyone goes on and on about books, but you should miss the electricity instead
          Magnets that just sort of appeared one day and never left – 10
          Cans of diet coke – 7
          Chairs – 6
          Table – 1
          House – 1
                   But I did you a favor with that one, really.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Fire Poems, Part 5

5. Dramatic Aside About Our Problems

I’ve always hated words without meaning.
Like, you once said that
Something or other stood POISED LIKE A LOVE POEM
and I hated you for that.
Nothing that has anything to do with love is ever poised.
It’s always scraping noses across the pavement,
fists meeting jaws and never letting go,
houses with their hair on fire against a dark sky.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Fire Poems, Part 4

4. The Plight of the Baby Heart

Hey, did I ever tell you? My eyes were cut wide open and I came into this world swinging an aluminum bat.
So step aside baby heart uncut teeth unsplit lip undropped shoe.
These are my murdering hands. This is my working shirt. That is what I have done. All laid out like intention.
Put that ax down, baby heart. It isn’t going to snow here. We don’t need wood for the fire.

I’ve spent the last twenty-five years sewing my lips shut and scraping my nose off against the pavement.
I’m not going to stop talking until I’ve run out of things to say, baby heart, so stop waving that ax at me.
No, listen. I’m sorry I burned the house down. I really am.
I drove over spilled books on a highway yesterday. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Will you put that ax down? You’re not fooling anyone. It isn’t going to get cold. We won’t need a fire.
I’m sorry I burned the house down. I didn’t know you were inside.
If I did— What did I say about waving that around? You don’t have the hands for it. We don’t need the wood.
If I did— Are you going to let me finish now? Sew those lips shut and let me tell you something, baby heart.

If I did, I would have locked the door on my way out. I would have done the job right if I knew what it meant.
Put it down, baby heart uncut teeth unsplit lip undropped shoe.
This is not what betrayal looks like. I promise that you’ll know it when you see it.
The bad truth is that I never escaped this little how-town with these little who-faces.
I tried, baby heart. I really tried. But this town grew into me and latched itself into my bones.

Now I can’t tell if it moves me or I move it but either way, I would’ve locked the door if I knew you were inside.
You can blame the town if you want. You can blame me. Either way, it doesn’t change what happened.
I’ll always regret that I did not know. But where was I? What was I saying?
Oh right. The books. Thanks, baby heart. You always know what I mean.

I drove over spilled books on the highway yesterday. You would have called it a poem.
Spines were split like a car accident and pages smeared across the asphalt.
I know what you’re thinking and no, I didn’t stop and I didn’t call the cops but there was so much blood.
So much blood you wouldn’t believe it. And I thought hey, wow, this is just like you, baby heart.

These are your uncut teeth. This is your unsplit lip. That is your undropped shoe. All laid out like intention.
These are sticky fingers smearing life where I never wanted it.
This is the red crayon on the woodwork.
That is a match in a dark hallway that didn’t know you were home.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Fire Poems, Part 2

2. The Singularity of Some Things

I’ve stopped reading subtle differences, like which
side of the punch I’m really on,
you know?
knuckles bruise lips, teeth break knuckles
and they’re so closely pressed together that I can’t tell where you
end and I begin and you said,
     “we’re bordering on biblical here and—”
what was the rest? Oh,
     “Less love, more leather jackets
     more eyes like blackout curtains
     more rough bodies in cement stairwells
     more scrapes up our spines like war wounds and leaking flags.
     Pass on the apologies, say no to the tears,
     Write poems across your fists and shove them down people’s throats.
     If we all go around genuflecting all the time,” you said,
     “We’ll run into something eventually.”
And damn, if I could have turned everything you ever said into a poem,
I’d never have run out of things to eat
and I’d still know what to call you.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Fire Poems, Part 1

1. Picture of a Burned-Out House

You can still see what it looked like before the fire.
You can still see the outline where it seared the sky.
     That’s the slope of the roof
     Those were the kitchen chairs
     There was where the walls met
     These were the stairs
     Here is where you lived
and I can still see you in it, too:
     This is your burnt outline
          Like a police chalking of a body
          Like your shadow melted to the wall

This was the place before it happened.
I could give a tour of this wreckage.
Look at this mess.
Watch where you step— the nails survived the fire
     spite solidified, tetanus and rust
     proof that there isn’t a god and you were wrong all along.

This was where the firetrucks sat and screamed
and threw up their hands at a job badly done.

This is a photograph of the fire
          and here is another and another and another and
All the photos you had of the house when it was whole
          were in the house and eaten whole.

This is where you kept the photos. This is the fire that ate them.
So take this one instead.
     Remember your house with its hair on fire.
     Remember the paint blistering.
     And all those little things you loved, so much, as only ash against an orange sky.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6