Hunting Manual

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner
The unicorn is an easy prey: its horn
in the maiden’s lap is an obvious
twist, a tamed figure—like the hawk
that once roamed free, but sits now, fat and hooded,   
squawking on the hunter’s wrist. It’s easy   
to catch what no longer captures
the mind, long since woven in,
a faded tapestry on a crumbling wall
made by the women who wore keys
at their waists and in their sleep came
hot dreams of wounded knights left bleeding
in their care, who would wake the next morning   
groaning from the leftover lance in the groin,   
look up into the round blond face beaming down   
at them thinking "mine," and say: "angel."   
Such beasts are easy to catch; their dreams   
betray them. But the hard prey is the one   
that won’t come bidden.

By these signs you will know it:
when you lift your lure
out of the water, the long plastic line
will be missing its end: the lure and the hook   
will be gone, and the line will swing free   
in the air, so light it will be without
bait or its cunning
sharp curl of silver. Or when you pull
your net from the stream, it will be eaten   
as if by acid, its fine mesh sodden shreds.

Or when you go at dawn to check your traps,   
their great metal jaws will be wrenched
open, the teeth blunt with rust
as if they had lain for years in the rain.
Or when the thunderstorm suddenly breaks   
in the summer, next morning
the computer’s memory will be blank.

Look then for the blank card, the sprung trap,   
the net’s dissolve, the unburdened   
line that swings free in the air.
There. By day, go empty-handed to the hunt   
and come home the same way   
in the dark.

Eleanor Wilner, “Hunting Manual” from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Eleanor Wilner. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

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Poet Eleanor Wilner b. 1937

Subjects Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities

 Eleanor  Wilner


Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975).  Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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