In a backyard stripped of color, my dad strung a bloodied goose from the eaves of the garden shed. He had shot it early on a late fall morning, a gray goose in dawn’s gray light, on the knife edge of winter. “A real honker,” he said. Heavy bodied, maybe 10 or 12 pounds, more than I could hoist with my junior high school arms. What is said of a greyhound? Head like a snake, neck like a drake, sides of a bream. Same is true of a Canada goose, even in death, limp and languishing above a concrete patio.
This was the closest I’d gotten to this wild bird. Like everyone, I had seen it on every golf course, murky suburban pond, roadside and ditch. Slipped on its castings. Scattered corn kernels and bread—in return, offered only a hiss, a feint, a goosestrike.
The goose was ungutted. Dad said I should pluck the outers and then he would pull the innards. I set to work, honored at first that of all his children, he chose me for the task.
Mine was a rough pluck, the tail feathers first. Only to discover the endless fluff of down. I felt a fool. Of course, I knew of goose down duvet, had felt both ploof and sharp quills under my cheek. But this endlessness of task. I’m sure Dad, a fitful hunter, was worn, and wanted only a hot meal and a drink. He told me the goose and its plucking couldn’t wait, and he set me on the redwood bench to lay bare a goose body.
Dad stood in the kitchen, above me, red eared, clinking glasses, in a golden rectangle of kitchen window. I, below, chilly, plucky, plucking, gutsy, gutted, astride the picnic bench. He gave me a black garbage bag for the mess, but soon I let the fine feathers go where they may. Let them sleep under a snowy duvet and line bird nests in the spring.
I pressed down with my left hand, keeping the skin smooth and taut, then plucked with my right through the vee made by my thumb and pointer. I was not orderly nor tender. The gooseflesh went on forever, a polka dot for every pin feather, blood pooling under the skin, stagnant and marshy.
Much later, years later, I learned he could have heated a big kettle of water, plunged the bird inside, scalding it to make my task much easier. But, with him, it wasn’t easy, and it was never easier.
That description of the greyhound is considered one of the earliest descriptions in the English language of a purebred dog breed, in “The Boke of St. Albans” published in 1486. Written by a woman writer no less, Dame Juliana Berners. It must have been something, to be taken seriously as an outdoorswoman in the 15th century. It’s still something today. Perhaps that’s why I hold tight to the memory of the goose: I hoped my dad was telling me I was capable, I was an outdoorswoman.
Bream, the noun, is a bronze-colored fish. To bream, the verb, is to scrape clean the bottom of a ship. I scraped that goose—head like a snake, neck like a drake, sides of a bream—prickly and clean. Then, it was to please him. Now, I know better. Did he even keep his promise, to pick up where I left off? Did he gut and roast that bird? Were there always many tasks and little thanks? I do not know; my memories migrate. But I remember the lines of that day: a sinuous goose, stark angles of bench and concrete, a sweating window sash. Lines that separate, that mark a vee in the sky and a vee in the palm of my hand, and they never intersect, go on indefinitely, and I think I am at peace with that.