We’re sounding words. KRILL. CLAM. SKATE. SHARK. We scan
Down lines each page to find the ones he gets.
I realize I skip a word I want
To keep away as long as possible.

He asks me what it is, and so I teach
Him KILL. Come on. It’s in a nature book.
It’s part of life, I know, I know. I know.
KILL. KILL. It’s all there is. The sharks will kill

The eels and eels will kill the smaller fish,
And on and on it goes. We kill the sharks.
We’re like a net that sinks to suffocate
The world. Even sharks, those primordial killers,

Are going to go away, fewer of them
Each year, fewer than since time began,
An extinction that’s never slowing down,
He learns. He learns to say the word. To KILL.

He learns what’s gone is really gone for good.
We learn together KILL. Our fingers touch
As we draw them smoothly along the page
Until we reach and brush against the word, KILL. KILL.


Ernest Hilbert is the author of Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, Caligulan—selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize—and Last One Out. His fifth book, Storm Swimmer, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as the winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize and will appear in 2023. Visit him at www.ernesthilbert.com

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