First Skinning

By Beth Spencer

A long incision slashed from breast to groin.
In darkening day we unzip the deer
peel and lift the heavy pelt.
We leave there hanging: four stiffened legs
a naked body swirled with whiteish fat,
and still attached, the covered head,
brown bonnet ruff of fur around the face,
bracketing dull and empty eyes.

Afterward we fold the skin and pack it in a bucket
to take home, to lay it open on the dining table,
fur to wood, the inside up.
In my hand I hold the ulu, the curved steel knife,
its wooden handle tucked into my palm
stretch taut the skin.
In long smooth strokes or those
that stutter through the fat, the clinging flesh,
my bones remember doing this
a thousand times before.