Calling Annie Oakley

By Kirsten Abel

Written on the side of a payphone
lashed to the wall of the bathroom in a Montreal café
is Annie Oakley’s telephone number.
I see it while I’m peeing.
That’s how close the payphone is.
Annie Oakley in black marker and then her number.
I’ve only touched a gun once.
Or maybe I didn’t touch it, I just thought about touching it
and then said, No, thank you.
It was my father’s gun. It was small, perfect
for tting into a lady’s hand. Is that called a .38 Special?
Annie Oakley would know.
I didn’t grow up with guns.
I didn’t grow up with my father.
People sometimes think that is a great tragedy.

I did grow up near a little lake, beside
which lived two goats and a horse.
In spring and summer I would walk with my sisters
the dirt trail overlooking the mountain to the gravel path to the stables.
If the goats were out,
we’d pass them cabbage through the fence.
Back then I thought the greatest tragedy was August
ending or my eighth-grade crush dumping me
for a girl with nearly my same name.
I’ve always had trouble locating the appropriate level of sadness
about the father thing.
I’m not saying it doesn’t register.
I’ve just known from a young age there was nothing to do about it.
Here is me.

Here is my father.
The distance between us could be as close as me to this payphone
or as far as the mountain felt from the lake.
Either way it changes things.
Either way it’s done.
Annie Oakley shot a squirrel’s head clean off at age eight.
It was her first shot.
Here is me, I hear her saying.
Here is the squirrel.
Right through the head or right through the thigh or right through the gut.
Either way it’s done.


Kirsten Abel is a writer from Steilacoom, WA. She has an MFA from Columbia University and lives in Seattle. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, FIELD, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, and other publications.

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