Tales of the Woodcock
By Julie Irigaray
A picture of me holding a woodcock
my father had freshly shot
takes pride of place in our living room.
What a peculiar thing to let a three-year-old child
pose with a dead bird, and such a majestic one.
But I'm not repelled. I am familiar with
the woodcock's umber and burnt sienna
plumage—I even know her Latin name is
Scolopax Rusticola, that her belly resembles
bandages. I have learned to find the pin feathers,
these delicate striped tears used
by artists as brushes for miniatures.
I spread her wing as one unfolds a moth, trying
not to touch the powder which allows it flight.
I'm not thinking about why her head is dangling:
I just love to caress her coal skullcap. I grasp
the woodcock tightly—my father's most precious
treasure. I don't realise yet that he will neglect
his family to track her down every weekend.
I don't resent her being our rival.
A snapshot of the mind: I'm no more than twelve
and my mother cooks woodcocks in boiling
duck fat to preserve them. She offers to prepare me
one for breakfast: I accept but feel embarrassed
as I know she is going to tell her friends
and all the family how good a girl from
the south west I am, eating woodcocks at 9 am:
Such a strong child, a hunter's daughter.
Now I feel guilty when I devour the woodcocks
my father shoots. I love the crack of the beak
when I open it to catch the tongue, breaking the skull
to suck the brain, the succulent taste of what I enucleate.
Then I reflect on this pair of obsidian eyes, always glassy
—the most impenetrable I’ve ever seen. So I make a small
sacrifice by not asking my father to bring me others,
hoping my opposition is of principle, not a rejection of him.
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