As the Shotgun Enters Hemingway’s Mouth, He Is Recalling

By Robert Aquinas McNally

that dawn over the harbor of Smyrna, where beaten Greek forces evacuating by ship take care of their mules before the Turkish army sweeps in. Turning the beasts loose would be the same as giving them to the Turks, the officer in charge tells him.

Hemingway records the quote in a reporter’s notebook nesting in his left hand. Right thumb and forefingers hold the copy pencil, the way they now cradle the trigger. He takes notes about light off the water slicing the low tide smell, slides his focus toward the quay. He trusts this technique, a progress from fringe to center, from harbor to wharf, from pencil to page, from his fingers testing the trigger to the double muzzle resting between tongue and palate.

Mule by mule, the soldiers uncinch packsaddles and panniers, pull off blankets furry with dust and sweat. They lead the stripped mules to the brink, crack a crowbar hard against forelegs, push the broken, quivering animals into the harbor’s scum. Too crippled to swim, the mules thrash to keep nostrils in air. Fear churns the water around them into oily circles. One by one the mules tire, slide under. The surface goes still.

Hemingway watches, writes. He hunts for the right verb to anchor the final sentence, about this silent sinking into the deeper silence below. The word lurks just out of range, unseen, unheard, unnamed.

One finger pushes the trigger back to the set point, tenses. His mind settles around the pencil in Smyrna, the one that is waiting still for the right word, that has no idea what it is about to report.


A three-time Pushcart nominee, Robert Aquinas McNally has written nine nonfiction books and four poetry chapbooks, along with essays, features, and news stories in various magazines. His publication credits include The Alembic, Bateau, Blue Unicorn, Blueline, The Cape Rock, Carquinez Poetry ReviewConfrontationdecomP, Eclectica, Ecotone: Reimagining Place, Fourteen HillsHawaii Pacific Review, The MacGuffin, Minnetonka Review, Pembroke Magazine, Quiddity, Reed Magazine, River Oak Review, RiverSedge, Runes, Sanskrit, Snowy Egret, and Soundings East, among others. A graduate of The Ohio State University and the University of California at Berkeley, he has also studied extensively with the award-winning poet David St. John.


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