A Stack of Pines
by Louis Bourgeois
The voices are still there twenty years later. Nothing has changed. Mr. Rodriquez is still yelling at Mike Brown for blasting his plump gray squirrels out of his backyard with a double barrel twelve gauge. Mike and I will risk our lives to kill whatever we want.
On this particular day, there is a logging road behind Mr. Rodriquez’s house that had cut through a thick grove of pines years ago. We’re walking the trail and there are flies as thick as storm clouds hovering over the body of a rotting deer someone undoubtedly wounded one night as they poached it with a headlight. The deer must have lopped away with a gut shot and finally collapsed here on the logging road, where it died an agonizing death in the early dawn light a week or so earlier. Mike takes out a cheap pocket knife from his jeans and starts hacking away at the little deer antlers, a four pointer, and ties both sets of antlers around his neck with his shoe string. Just as soon as he brings his arms from around the back of the neck, we both spot a decaying pile of branchless pine trees left behind by a team of pulp wood cutters—logs that were just not big enough to bother hauling in to be processed at the mill.
Around the pile are shallow but wide pools of water where a stout-looking green heron pecks away at water bugs and crawfish—neither of us has ever seen a green heron before, and it’s not until later after I’ve looked it up in the forty-year-old bird book my father gave me from his youth that I know what kind of bird it is, but for the moment Mike and I are startled to see such a strange bird out here in the highlands of our piney woods village. We thought we knew all the birds in the area because we thought we’d shot them all. Mike raises the pellet rifle that we’re sharing and fires the last pellet we have, and we hear the plunk of the pellet but it’s high above the wing. We both take after this bird that can’t fly anymore but most indeed can run like hell. He runs like Road Runner in those old cartoons and hides in the pine logs, and here we are straining to move the logs that haven’t been moved in over a decade, perhaps, in order to get to the bird. It takes half the evening to move all the logs from the top of the pile to get to him. Mike spies him first and then grabs him quickly and tries to wring his neck but the bird is a survivor, he doesn’t want to die at all and he makes this eerie croaking sound the whole time Mike tangles with him. Finally, Mike pulls his knife out of his back pocket and starts cutting into the bird’s gut sack and when he’s finished a dozen or so silver minnows poured out of him like a slot machine.
Mike and I looked at the dead bird and the minnows that had spilled out of its stomach and in our young kid’s way both commented on how strange life is.
Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director at VOX Press. Bourgeois, the first graduate of the University of Mississippi’s MFA program, is also the author of 6 books of poetry. In 2008 his memoir, The Gar Diaries, was nominated for the National Book Award.