My father sounds like an engine starting in the cold,
the phlegm turning over in his throat – ack hack hack –
steam billowing out his mouth. He scares away all the ducks
we might have shot. I ball in my wool mittens, pull my hat low
and curse him inside and out. His mustache. That old
broken tooth. Quietly humming zip a dee do dah.
The leaves under the tree gleam in the glare
from the frozen lake, red and pink and orange.
“We should move,” I whisper and point to the far shore
where there is a larger stand of trees. He shakes his head,
crinkling one eye shut. We stay put, crouched. My legs fall
asleep. Nothing moves. No clouds, no wind, no ducks
in or off the lake. Just a white frozen expanse, the sun,
my father and I. I sweat inside my clothes. By mid-morning
the sun has burned off any goodwill, any chance,
so we pack up, hauling our gear the all the way back
to the truck. We drink coffee from a dented thermos.
“Good day,” my father says as I glare at the stubble
wheat shorn until next fall.
It will take years, my father long dead,
crouched at the edge of another frozen lake
with my own child, until I realize what he meant.
I’ll find myself wondering, as the brush explodes
with the flurry of startled wings,
if the guns were ever even loaded.