Poetry: The Skinning | clivejames.com
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The Skinning

I watched my older cousin skin a mole:
it seemed a fearsome thing to do, but I was eager
to be big and full of knowledge, so I stayed there,
brave girl, hunkered down, my flowered skirt
rucked up between my summer knees.
The shed’s stone step — his rough autopsy table —
pressed the morning’s gathered heat into my soles,
the same heat rising through the opened body
of the mole. I frowned against the boomerang
of sun, flung, swerving, off the blade at me,
and in the quiet of the early afternoon — the grown-ups
at their ritual naps — the whispering, skrrt-skrrt,
skin peeling back as if from velvet fruit, rasped
louder than the new, enormous thudding of my heart.

No bigger than a mango really, it had fitted in his palm
after the shot, a trophy for his patience, waiting, poised,
brave backyard hunter, ready finger on the trigger lip.
Unsuspecting, it had snuffled to the ceiling of the lawn,
a creature from a picture book, old Mouldiwarp: soft snout,
a pair of small, intrepid claws, a grubby engineer
whose only fault was choosing my aunt’s emerald pride
and joy as his back door. But now it lay as dumb
as fruit, and leaking juice, a thick and sweethot scent
I had to suck my teeth against — but no, I wouldn’t
look away, or pinch my nose, as his brown fingers,
almost priestly, probed the tight-packed inner things.
I watched, and didn’t flinch: his certainty and skill —
and then his sudden, flashing grin, conspiratorial,
as though I wasn’t just a scaredy-cat who couldn’t catch
a ball or swim: I’d crouched to skin a mole with him,
and so I too, accomplice now, was in on his small kill.