I was nine, maybe ten, when I fired my first rifle.
My father took my sister and me to the shooting
ranges, long buildings containing echoes,
practice outlined in pierced sound like coins
clapping inside a tin can—only the silver
is the grass here, ashy tips from dry hands
and fresh smoke, wood pillars pressed in the dirt. Here,
where every sense was multiplied: sight, sound,
smell, touch—even the taste of our empty mouths.
The only thing missing from this was my father’s
good dog, his German shepherd named Bullet.
Despite never knowing his childhood companion—
simply a memory I lived through—I loved
and thought I knew this dog, thought that I missed
his protection, his loyal teeth. Weekends spent
at my father’s apartment were like this, sepia
photographs spread on the glossy table once
belonging to my great-grandmother—all of his
furniture used, antique, whatever he could salvage
after the divorce—but I held mountain images
in my small girl-hand, my father’s younger arms
draped around Bullet, and here I was clutching
something that could kill me, too: its hollow
body underneath my curled fingers, parallel
to my feet planted in stone, and I aimed
toward the target that’s never been alive,
an imagined desire behind my doe eyes, what
could I have pretended it to be? I was nine,
maybe ten, what man could have hurt me already?
But I learned to pull the trigger, shake sparrows
from their trees. My father making a woman out of me,
or the son he didn’t have, I learned to be the daughter
with a weapon meant to make me feel strong.
Call it instinct, protection, his own needs—
but there’s something about a father teaching
his daughters to use a gun. I don’t remember how,
or when we walked out, what was said. I suppose
I left with some new knowledge, or no idea of
what I just did. Mostly I think I remember the grey sky,
the broken fence. Each shivering leaf. I remember
the groundhog eating clover again, not afraid of the cars.
Memory wants to keep me like this. On the verge
of understanding things. When I was ember.
The daughter just small enough to be saved.
—from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Richelle Buccilli: “I was inspired to write ‘Sparrow’ as a way to help myself heal after a hurtful, I’ll say even cruel, experience. As with many of my poems, I’m not always sure where they are going when I begin, and with this one, I ended up digging deep into an early childhood memory. I think that’s part of the power of poetry: finding connections that are both startling and beautiful.” (web)