Susan O’Dell Underwood. Tick.

15 Feb

TICK

Cruelty went by other names:
necessity, caution, tradition.
My daddy would haul a hound dog to his side,
ribcage firm against ribcage,
and with his free hand search along the short-haired hide
to find each tick stuck like a backward
bloody nipple, suckling, full enough to burst.
The old dogs never skittish of the sulfur smell,
the match he struck burning close enough
to shrivel the tick’s legs and then the tick.
And I was never skittish either,
nuzzling the young pups nose to nose,
calming them that it would be okay.
I couldn’t help wanting to watch each tortured,
sizzling black release of ruptured oily ooze,
the smell of hair and death,
and sometimes even laughing at the yelp
when the flame came close to skin.

Nothing in that memory torments me.
A tick is a nasty creature.
Habits haunt me which they never let me witness—
the calves bawling in the barn at their castration,
the ball-peen hammer cracking the grown steer’s skull.
I found the copperhead already hoed in two
beside the garden lilies.

One day my brother and I
would visit the dog’s pen near the barn
to see her pups. The next day they’d be gone.
No grown up said a word about her pacing solitude.
How did we figure out the strangling or the drowning?
I never saw, yet still see in my mind
their little whiskered faces
puckered up, eyes closed and wincing
for one more breath,
and someone’s hand I loved
moving to choose another.

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