- The Terror
Alas poor things! how well do I remember the pain it gave me, to be thus obliged to pass and execute sentence upon them. John James Audubon
A tiny island off Labrador, throngedwith nesting seabirds. The scrapeof boots, hobbed with heavy nails for gripon the slick sea rocks. Gunfire and alarms,a tempest of wings and cries: Audubonand his team are collecting specimens.Out of the riot one Arctic Tern divestoward a stunned young man, William Ingalls,young medic, who normally remainsaboard ship; and the tern lands, cringingin the instep of his boot. Audubon noticesthree things at once: the tern; the involuntarygesture Ingalls makes—bending forward,hands half-reached, as if to help the bird; and—flushed in a burst from his memory—himself, eight years old, his younger sister,father and stepmother in prison in Nantes,1793. Stone walls and floor, iron hinges.He hears outside the barked command,the synchronized report of muskets, and knowsfrom having seen it, what happens next:smoke from the muzzles, and the body slumpsagainst the wall. Now he is lookingfrom the eyes of the tern looking at him,to the eyes of Ingalls, looking at him.Audubon recoils, steels himself, reloads.Later he'll describe the day's shootingin his Ornithological Biography.Later he'll tell Ingalls there was nothingthe young man could do to help. [End Page 135]
William Wenthe has published four books of poems, including God's Foolishness (2016) and Words Before Dawn (2012). He has received poetry fellowships from the NEA and the Texas Commission on the Arts. Originally from northern New Jersey, he teaches at Texas Tech University.