If This Old Gun Could Talk
By Mark McCollough

I’ve long wondered about your past
Your barrels with the patina from countless hands
Checkering melded into French walnut, engraving faded into nickel steel
Dents and scratches in steel and wood
Each a chronicle of rock walls, falls, and alder swales
Slapping brush, brier patches, and wild grape tangles

Your past belied in secret symbols
Forged in a St. Etienne foundry by guild craftsmen
French hands wrought rococo scrolls and finely checkered stock
Did you hunt the rugged Pyrenees for capercalie, le grand tétras
The bottomlands of the Loire for woodcock, la bécasse
Anxious Almanor Brittanys on point, chiens d’arret

Miraculously you survived two world wars and German occupation
Under penalty of death, hunting forbidden
Buried or secreted away under farmhouse floorboards or barn rafters
Did you defend a family, poach from the aristocracy, provide food for hungry
Were you found by a GI, won in a card game
Cross the Atlantic in a troop transport, secreted in a soldier’s duffel

How long have you roamed these New England hills
In search of partridge and timberdoodles
Or sat in farmhouse closets
Anticipating a blaze of autumn glory
How many have called you their own
Bartered and traded, cared for, mishandled, appreciated or forgotten

Dogs shivering and nipping with excitement
Bells sounding through the abandoned orchard
Heads held high, tails whipping
Dodging through shafts of sunlight
Scent wafting on the breeze, then silence
English setters drooling with anticipation

The world explodes in a thunder of wings and fanned tail
How many have sighted down the checkered rib
Cheek against walnut, hits and misses
The tang of blue nitro smoke hanging in the crisp air
Golden aspen leaves wafting to the ground
The heft of a limp bird in hand

And what of your future
Can oiled steel and polished walnut recall
The bouncing showshoe hare, the gobble of a tom turkey
A century of the hunting across two continents
To become a family heirloom
Or to wait in the gunshop rack for new owner

Mark McCollough is a biologist for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and can be contacted at ellmcc25@yahoo.com. Proof marks under the barrels of my double barreled 16-guage indicate my gun was made in St. Etienne, France prior to WWI by guild craftsmen – their names long lost to history.

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