During the hunt, I thought I was dealing with
the blood, the gut-shot wounds, the light fading

from caribou-eyes. My first autumn in Alaska --
early morning we see a line moving down

the snowy pass from the Tinayguk river. The migration
is starting,
Fred says as he checks his rifle, his bullets;

Sixteen mouths to feed this winter. The men hurry
away to ambush the herd and spend hours crouched

behind screens of woven twigs -- rifles ready. Snow crystalline
on every branch -- between scrub-spruce and willow, caribou glide --

antlers rattle on wood -- foggy-breath billows from nostrils, shrouds
the herd. A family of ravens circles high. Silence descends

before the bullets ricochet and echo and echo. Hoofs tearing
the tundra, legs pounding fear. The living herd moves on.

We step closer with our sleds and sharpened knifes -- one gut-shot
caribou struggles to its feet -- Fred finishes it. Elaine shows me how

to slit the belly, roll the entrails out. Blood seeps into my gloves and
my flannel sleeves. I do not weep -- I work on and on -- proving myself.

Later, like Lady Macbeth, I soap my skin but in sleep I still am rolling
out entrails, still covered in blood. Hours tossing, turning, smelling death;

until I stagger outside and vomit
on the pristine snow.

© 1995, Donna J. Waidtlow

Donna Waidtlow is currently studying poetry through the University of Washington Extension Program and working on her MFA through Goddard College. She has had her poetry published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Anima, Bellowing Ark, Chaminade Literary Review, Fireweed, Paper Boat, TAPJoE, and others.