I took it as permission but also a kind of challenge
when my father told me to take care of the backyard
pigeons with my younger brother’s BB gun.
Part of me knew he was kidding but most of me didn’t care,
only wanted nothing more than to make him proud.
Outside, hot air filled my lungs, trying to drown me.
I steadied the rifle on our brick wall, took aim at
a beautiful bird perched on the neighbor’s smokestack,
flight feathers all slate gray and black and mournful.
When the pellet struck her squarely in the neck I felt
surprise, a jolt of regret, let myself drop out of time
for a moment, as she tumbled toward the neighbor’s deck.
Three hours later I mustered the will to hop the wall,
picked her up, tenderly, as if handling something still living.
Bagged her in a Ziploc, buried her deep in our garbage can.
I said a prayer of forgiveness, a vow to never kill again,
though I don’t recall that so strongly. Maybe it never happened.
That evening, the neighbors threw their daughter a quinceañera,
and from my bedroom I listened to laughter and dancing
shoot into the sky until everyone went home and the night was quiet.