William Harvey’s Dogs

“I found the task so truly arduous…that I was almost tempted to think…that the movement of the heart was only to be comprehended by God.”
—William Harvey, De Motu Cordis, 1628

Erasmus had taken in a stray,
and marked down every whimper
as he peeled flesh away, then wrote,
at terrible end, “Never again.”
William Harvey’s brutal persistence,
though, first understood the pumping action
of the heart. “Please, stop!” the doctor
cannot speak, strangled up in his dream,
all night, their wild faces; blood gushing
in streams, recalled at breakfast table,
turns his head to frost-licked panes,
to hide a weak-eye from grandson,
blond, bent over steaming venison stew.

There is nothing of dawn yet, in November,
in Vermont, just black and the yawning
chill. He waits for the question, “Why
do we have to kill?” Sometimes,
almost always, you must have the will
to destroy so that you can save
the better part—to the boy he’d say,
“We go hunting to forge a bond. Together,
in nature, to appreciate. I took your father
and my father took me.” But the boy
says nothing, then asks “What makes
the bullets go?” So he repeats the story,
trigger to sear to spring-loaded hammer,
pin to primer, gunpowder, bursting
flame, the boy, happily, mouths “Blam!”

The doctor’s wife watches them, two,
through lavender light depart,
shotguns broken over shoulders,
camo draped in orange. Later years,
she remembers only, of their going,
the chestnut tree in the drive, one
armlike branch begins to tremble
as it sways above the van, and, of
the woody hand, an index finger curls,
as against the trigger of the world.


Benjamin Harnett, born 1981 in Cooperstown, NY, is a fiction writer, poet, historian, and digital engineer. His essays, poems, translations, and short stories have appeared in Brooklyn Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Wag's Revue, the Columbia Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Queen Mob's Tea House. He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, with his wife, Toni, and their pets. In 2005, he co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He currently works at The New York Times.