To Kill A Whippoorwill

John Henry Hammond swore he’d kill the bird
that whip-poor-willed each night without a pause.
For countless nights it kept John from his sleep.
“But it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,”
John’s wife, Matilda, said, fear in her eyes.
That was a saying she had often heard.
This bird’s a whippoorwill and warped,” John said.
“That’s why his piercing shriek goes on all night.”
“Be careful with that gun,” Matilda warned
as John went out with rifle in his hand.
“Now go to bed, Matilda,” John advised.
Reluctantly, Matilda did as told.
She stayed awake in case John needed help
and soon he called for her to bring a light.
She ran outside with flashlight in her hand.
John pointed quickly to the water oak.
She bounced the beam upon the tallest limb.
The light reflected bright red, blazing eyes
as round as copper pennies, flashing fire.
“Why must I help to kill this whippoorwill?”
Matilda asked but knew the reason why.
Her marriage vows had lured her to this task.
“I promise to obey,” she’d said to John,
and duty-bound she firmly held the light.
Kaboom! The pellets scattered into leaves;
wings flapped away to nearby tree of thorns.
John ran inside, brought back an old sling-shot;
he loaded it with sharp and deadly rocks.
“Come here!” he yelled. “Matilda, shine the light.”
Matilda beamed the light upon the bird.
It shrieked once more before the blow that felled
it from the thorn tree’s highest limb. The thud
of feathered bird’s soft body hitting hard
was like no sound Matilda ever heard–
then silence raked across her heart with guilt.
“It was a sin to kill that whippoorwill,
John Henry Hammond!  Shame for what we’ve done!”
She lay awake and worried for their fate.
John Henry Hammond smiled himself to sleep.

c Copyright, 2012, Freeda Baker Nichols

4 comments on “To Kill A Whippoorwill

  1. patlaster says:

    I’m glad that nowadays, the word “obey” is omitted from most (if not all) wedding vows. Good example of blank verse.


    • 🙂 If Matilda had not obeyed, John could not have seen how to kill the bird. 🙂 I assure you it was totally necessary so that the family could sleep. They tried many times to scare the strange whippoorwill away from the tree beside their window.


  2. Rhonda Roberts says:

    Hey Freeda, I like this piece, but you call the bird a mockingbird at one place, and a whippoorwill all the others. Did you mean to?r Date: Sat, 6 Oct 2012 23:59:02 +0000 To:


    • Yes. I meant it to be mockingbird because Matilda knows it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Because of that knowledge, she’s afraid to help kill the whippoorwill, and John justifies the action by saying the bird is crazy. Thanks, Rhonda, for your comment. Apparently, the poem is unclear somehow and does not come across as I meant it.


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