The Mate

The Atlantic receives on an average as many as 1500 poems a month. They come as frequently from men as from women, and are evidence of an interest in poetry which never slackens. As an incentive for those writers yet unestablished, we shall from time to time devote a number of pages to the work of young poets.

by JAMES STOKELY
I WAS only sixteen
And sat trying not to cry in the woods.
I had had no luck
And the October sun was nearly gone.
Uncle Rance, over to my right,
Already had a dozen partridges.
And Lute McSween, a quarter of a mile to the left,
A brace of ducks.
I stood up, wiped my eyes,
And tiptoed into a little clearing
With only the sound of hidden insects
To accompany my ritual stalk and breath.
Suddenly my heart leaped into my hand
As I saw a movement not fifty feet away,
The sunlight filtering through the leaves
To envelop the gorgeous creature
In a golden-brown haze,
Strange, proud scion of sky and earth,
Its neck firm and erect,
Its tuft of wing flecked with a lost-world tint
Of rainbow trout in a pool of ferns.
There was no sound
But the beating of two wild hearts.
With the ancient thirst ripe within me
My finger squeezed the lock of my 20-gauge
And the long-tailed ring-necked pheasant
Surprised in its solitary foraging
Collapsed like a rag doll.
The prize was mine!
Why did I not move?
I saw something greenish-blue and red
Come running from the brush
In a frenzy of clucking
Speaking to the lump of bone, flesh, and feathers.
Seeking to lead it to safety.
Rance called from the farther hill
But I did not answer.
I looked at my gun.
The woods and the bird and I
Were equally still.