This week’s poem was inspired by a famous Winslow Homer painting that depicts a man precariously balanced on an evergreen bough, aiming a rifle. While he might at first seem to be hunting deer in a bucolic woodland scene, Homer’s title – “The Army of the Potomac – A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty” – shows us the darker truth of his aim. There is no punctuation in Julie Poitras Santos’ poem; each line reads as a complete thought. Together, they form a lyric meditation, troubled and troubling, on the human hunt we call war.

Poitras Santos’ writing has appeared in The Café Review, The Chart, Living Maps Review, The New Guard and elsewhere. Her visual art has been exhibited widely in the U.S. and abroad. Poitras Santos is the director of exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.

Sharpshooter

By Julie Poitras Santos

 

after Winslow Homer, 1863

 

Nobody knows when the first men started

We learned to hunt to feed our hunger

 

Sound of the river and distance, sound of the winter’s wind

A camp was erected in spring not far from the shore

 

Some scrambled up trees in the dawn

They studied the movements of prey

 

The way of the needles the scent of the clay in the earth

The scent of pitch on skin

 

Shadows appeared with the sun the hop of cardinal or sparrow

A boot in the crotch of tree

 

Shouts spilled across in the shoreline silence

An echo of animal feeling in turn

 

The painting without the edge of the frame

The painting and a sequence of events off stage

 

The face and the hand and the hand

The diagonal marks of a viewer’s gaze

 

Balanced the gun on the hand and shoulder

Balanced the arm on the knee on the branch

 

The touch of a brush on canvas, a dab of cadmium red

The sound of – absolutely nothing is moving

 

Contracted and tensed for arrival

The thumping of blood in ears

 

Hiding the stock in the blind

Lifted the sight to eye

 

The crack and split of the echo in half –

History will tell us: “the nation”

 

Recollection aligns with the suffering

Of mastery we’ll ask many questions

 

A ghost just passed in the glass behind you

The gun was aimed at a man

 

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Sharpshooter” copyright © 2019 by Julie Poitras. It appears by permission of the author.


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