Jay Udall's writing has appeared in more than 100 publications, including North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Birmingham Poetry Review, Fourteen Hills, Cincinnatti Review, Rattle, and Verse Daily. He is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Because a Fire in Our Heads, winner of the 2017 X. J. Kennedy Prize (Texas Review Press/Texas A&M University Press, 2018). Previous books include The Welcome Table (University of New Mexico Press, 2009; Winner, 2009 New Mexico Book Award), Another Anatomy (Finishing Line Press, 2007; Semi-Finalist, 2006 Finishing Line Press Chapbook Award), Home in the Dark (Sunstone Press, 2002), First Identity (Redgreene Press, 2000; Winner of the 2000 Redgreene Press Chapbook Award), and Learning the Language (Bellowing Ark Press, 1997).
Tools of the Trade
It was tough killing each other with stones.
I mean, if you could catch a guy sleeping
you’d just drop a big one on his head, but
more often he’d spot you lugging that thing
his way, and run. Then someone realized
a spear was good for more than hunting, though
issues with distance and running remained
until addressed by the speed and piercing
precision of an arrow’s tip let go
from a string of hide stretched tight—such quiet
dread whole armies rained on each other’s heads.
Yet I confess nostalgia for the knife,
a hand-spear with facets of surprise and
intimacy. You had to look a guy
in the eyes or, if you chose to backstab,
firmly clasp his shoulder with your free hand
in an almost brotherly way as you
slipped the blade in—shades of Abel and Cane,
family business, a living tradition.
Guns? Invented by cowards. Any fool
can kill, and the poor victim might as well
be an idea, for god’s sake, a distant
abstraction, even more so when you drop
a bomb from the sky like some kind of god,
even worse when you press a button to
launch a smart missile or unmanned drone to
do your work while you turn away to play
eighteen holes. Where’s the sport in that, the warmth
and humanity, so far and so clean—
where is the murderer in the machine?
(originally appeared in Able Muse)