Even now, wouldn’t it start like that? An empty
plastic milk jug peppered with buckshot
as we learned the art of destruction.
Do not say there is no art in that.
In fact, there is little art that is not
such things. The chaos of oiled colors
adhering to unseen fibers in the canvas,
its purity destroyed and the whole thing
altered like those milk jugs that would jump
and roll down into the cloud of field dust
kicked up behind them. Or the way that chicken
got loose when we were fooling around
in the coop, where we should not have been,
but there we were and it got out and all hell broke loose:
the dogs chasing it all over, Daddy yelling,
and then, finally, when the dogs had the poor thing
cornered it played dead and fooled everybody.
The dogs got bored and left it alone, Daddy
told us to bury the damn thing, and when
we went to get it it jumped up unhurt,
scaring the hell out of us and starting the whole
show over again. Now that was art,
all of it, and would have been just as much
if the dogs had ripped the little bastard apart.
Shouldn’t life be like that? Simple and unpredictable
and damn near impossible to catch? Shouldn’t it
be able to play dead when it needs to? Sometimes
I think I learned everything I know that day,
but sometimes I don’t.
Those milk jugs are never far from my mind.
All these years, all these oceans, and I don’t think
I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful, though
there was that one time I almost put my eye out
with a BB gun. Most perfect thing I’ve ever done.
We were shooting at a barn wall, and I sent one
so perfect and straight it came right back down the sight line,
180 degrees, straight into my left, good eye.
One secret the recoil teaches is you shoot with your eyes,
not your hands, and you have to know
which eye to trust. The test is simple and never lies:
you find a tree about fifty yards away, look at it
with both eyes, then close each in turn, and the one
the tree moves less in is your good eye,
the one the world is truest through. Daddy taught me that,
sitting in our ancient red Chevy one day, out
in the pasture while we were taking a break from
whatever we were doing. I still remember it, and,
as far as I know, the tree I tried it out on is still there.
It’s funny what sticks with you, what falls away,
and that’s art too, art in its highest form.
What I wouldn’t give to be shooting a 12 gauge
at a milk jug right now. But I’m not.
Guess I’ll make do with what I’ve got.