Pushcart Prize Nominee: Paul Robert Chesser

the minnesota review is pleased to feature each of our nominees for the 2012 Pushcart Prize in the coming weeks.  This week we are excited to bring you an excerpt of Paul Robert Chesser‘s “Widening Gyre.” Please check back next week for more on our nominees and their work.

The Widening Gyre

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus):
 An Arctic bird of prey of the family Falconidae, the gyrfalcon is the world’s largest falcon with an adult height of two feet (60 cm) and a five-foot (160 cm) wingspan. The species’ diet consists chiefly of other birds, normally taken on the wing. They kill cleanly, breaking the back of the victim.

When I was twelve, I fell in love with Maude Butler from my English class, and my father bought me a Daisy BB rifle, took me in the back- yard and showed me how to shoot sparrows as he stumbled over the birds and bees. I wouldn’t kill them, and he said that was why I’d never kiss Maude Butler. When he went inside, I found the nest of parentless eggs in the mulberry tree. Hiding behind the wisteria bushes, I thought of Maude’s pink lip balm as I threw the eggs in the air and tried to shoot them. I think I wanted to find something inside, embryonic, glimmering and featherless, captured in flight, if just for a moment. I was too slow to aim, and the small eggs cracked against the grassless dirt near the fence. My father walked out again and found me squatted over them, looking at their insides. I can’t recall if either of us said anything then, when we looked at each other, but he let me keep the gun. I know I’ve never talked to you about my father before, nor anyone really. Maybe the way things have evolved, maybe now, maybe it makes a difference.

A few weeks later, he showed me how to balance an egg upright on the kitchen counter. We got out the carton and stood them up in a little breakfast platoon and he bet me five dollars I couldn’t do the same thing the next Sunday. He quietly took my money and made me clean the yolk and broken shells. I didn’t figure it out for years. I don’t think he and I ever really let me love him, and for years that was at the center of my world.

The last time I saw him, ten years ago, he was kneeling in prayer on the banks of a pond in Cypress Park, four blocks away from the house where he began to raise me. The gulls swooped over the water and caught silvery things in their mouths. He knelt there, head bent, his back to me. He couldn’t have known then how sick he was.

“Widening Gyre” was first published in issue 78 (Summer 2012) of the minnesota review. Paul Robert Chesser studied writing and literature at the University of South Carolina Aiken and Texas Tech University.  Recent publications featuring or due to feature his work include Copper Nickel, Nashville Review, Underground Voices and others.  Chesser lives in Lubbock, Texas. You can read the rest of “Widening Gyre” by accessing our online archive at Duke University Press, available here.

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