The squirrel hangs from
the cat’s clenched jaw
still trembling.

The cat brings it onto the porch,
stands before him
displaying his trophy.

Animals kill purely
driven by instinct far from
designed murder.

The artistry of ambush,
counterattack, crossfire,
have one purpose.

He was taught to waste them
one after the other
without a thought.

Vietnam was over,
then came insurgents,
the Taliban.

He kept his rifle immaculate,
his guilt washed away
like blood in the sink.

Squeeze the trigger,
never pull it, jerk it,
make the shot count.

One perfect shot,
one clean kill,
one head a poppy exploding.

This is his home
meant for his cat,
not the dead squirrel.

He takes it to the woods,
buries it beside his medals
but not his memories.

Milburn, Tuttle, Yardley
humping the hills
before the explosion.

Shrapnel severing limbs—
tighten the tourniquets,
plug the holes.

His trigger finger a reflex,
his reason dislodged,
the carnage a monument.

His life spared,
his body whole,
his comrades irreplaceable.

What has he brought home
to his wife, his cat?
The war remains inside him.

He pours another round
for Milburn, Tuttle, Yardley,
raising his glass.

If only this dream
recurred, if only it would
replace the nightmares.

Whiskey shortens the night,
thrushes sing at daybreak.
He listens for his dead.


Michael Miller’s recent book is Asking the Names
(Ashland Poetry Press). He won the W.B. Yeats
Society Poetry Award in 2014 for “The Different
War.” His poems have appeared in The Yale Review,
The Sewanee Review, The Kenyon Review and
Raritan. He served in the Marine Corps from 1958 to
1962. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
KILLING
by Michael Miller
APRIL 2018