Richard Hartner placed his hand
on his father’s old gun broken to receive the shell
in its chamber, and thought of the life
that gun had known at his father’s side or pegged on the wall
by the kitchen door, obsessively cleaned, ready to whirl
into action each time the family needed meat in the house.
Richard longed to rerun his childhood trek to that house
the day he shot his first squirrel, its furred tail in his hand
as his mind spun with a mesmerizing whirl
of scampering fur stopped by the single shell
that penetrated the wall
separating life from life.
His father had taught him that to live
responsibly one must respect the house
of his birth, that this house was a virtual wall
protecting all who lived within against the hand
of doubt and despair, a turtle shell
into which one could retreat when life began to whirl
out of control. His father had plowed this land, leaving a whorl
of rich loam to incubate the seeds he sewed, the life
coaxed from its stubborn shell.
He’d felled the trees and designed the house
that he later built with his own hand.
In his mind, the land offered a protective wall
to keep his children safe from an alien world, a wall
that somehow connected him to a grand design, a whorl
akin to the print on God’s own hand.
An energetic man, he had treasured life,
but he hadn’t known that a house was only a house,
that could be crushed like the shell
of a terrapin crossing a busy street, its cartilage a poor wall
to fend off the metal monsters beyond its mind, its inadequate house
left fragmented in the road. Richard’s mind filled with a whirl
of monsters of another kind. His own life
was reduced to the halting fingers of a useless hand.
That hand trembled as he slid the shell
into the gun’s breach. His life had hit the wall,
and he could find no way to stop the whirlwind within his house.