Pepper Trail





Something of the fierce remains.


The wolf, on the stainless-steel table

in the fluorescent room, bristles,

shows his teeth, blood-bathed and broken

between blackened lips, legs angled forward

and back, as if moving still in chase,

as if with the pack, on snow, under sun.


But so much damage done.

One foot missing, the stump long healed.

Another leg, the doctor finds, broken,

the third carries a bullet beside the bone.

Only one leg is whole, and one leg is not

enough to run, even with a wild heart.


The doctor whets her knife on the butcher’s steel,

bends to the skinning, short swift strokes

removing the robe of fur, revealing

the body, red and pink and silver.

How layered we are! –  planes of muscle

wrapping us tight – I mean, the wolf.


Naked, the body speaks no subtle story;

the skull is shattered, the ribs snapped.

With skill and care, the doctor cuts within,

examines lungs, liver, stomach, heart

stands to wipe her brow with the back

of a bloody glove, declares the animal healthy.


Healthy except for mutilation by a trap,

except for a bullet in a limping leg,

except for being dead.  The wolf,

in pieces now, is placed in bags. 

The skin goes last, eyeholes

blood-rimmed, black lips drawn back.


Pepper Trail's poems have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, SpillwayPedestal, Bird's Thumb, and other publications, and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Awards. His collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. Trail lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.