Unsent Letters from Rabbit to Dog 
by Chelsea Campbell

Correspondence: To My Brother (1999-2009)

A bullet descends from the sky’s gray winter nothing. An angel of death sniffing out families who forgot to paint lamb’s blood above their doorframes.

You, in your highchair while you smack your cherub hands against the plastic tray, red with spaghetti sauce. Even high above the clouds, the bullet sees you. Mistakes the noodles and ground beef granules smeared on your pink cheeks for viscera. A last-minute sacrifice to the angel.

Our mother lifts your roly-poly body to wash you and lay you down for a nap. This is when the bullet pierces our sliding glass door. The sound of death: Cold, electric festering of a mirror neuron. Pulsates in our mother’s pounding heart. Your infantile ear.


My little sister and I did not have toy guns before you were born. To play Cops and Robbers, we used rubber bands wrapped around our pointed index fingers and thumbs. Made-believe a hundred deaths.

When you are old enough to be bored by rubber bands, a pair of plastic cap guns with orange tips await on the kitchen table. We enjoy adding realism to our imagination, or at least what we think is realism. We like the acrid smoke smell after the pop pop pop. Sometimes the sound of death is a pretender. The laughter of children. 

On your birthday, you receive a pair of nerf guns with safety goggles, Velcro darts that stick to vests with white target lines. After little boys eat cake and ice cream, they pretend to kill each other. We find spongy, orange darts in seat cushions for years.

You are gifted the semi-automatic nerf for your next birthday. You buy three earthy spray paint colors. Turn shiny childish blue into matte camouflage. There comes a point for many children where the real becomes more desirable and attainable than the imagination.   

As you get older, the toys become heavier and more realistic. There’s the BB gun that you and dad use to shoot pests in our garden. The rabbits scream.

Then there’s the paintball gun. The airsoft gun. Boxes full of plastic or lead pellets. Yellow grass yards. All the places where boys pretend to kill each other.


Mom finds the bullet while navigating the icecaps of broken glass on the deck. When the police investigate and run the serial number on the bullet, they are shocked that it belongs to one of their own.

There’s a private shooting range for officers several miles from here, one says. They determine that the bullet must have hit something hard and icy, and then catapulted into the sky.

Our mother shudders at the thought of What Could Have Happened. Still, she thinks it’s a miracle. God stopped the bullet from entering our home with his hand. Modern stigmata.

The officers and the city clean everything up. Pay for a new sliding glass door. Shut down the shooting range. All they ask in return is that we not report this incident to the newspapers. 


Newspaper Clipping (Attached Between Two Letters): Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (2000) 

An insignificant blurb in the police report section in the back of the paper reads: Nonviolent disturbance reported at 1205 Pasque Cir. resulting in broken glass door.


Correspondence: To My Brother (2017-2018)

It’s the middle of winter. We are in mom’s cold garage that still harbors dad’s tools. Your breath smokes as you tell me about your invisible gun. 

For my protection, you say, with blank, red eyes which signal that you’re not quite here. You are seventeen years old, selling weed and pills. You try on a smug smile, thinking I will miss what’s broken. I tell you that I love you and that you need to get rid of it. 

Who does it really belong to? Who sells a gun to a seventeen-year-old? You do not answer. When I ask you about the gun later, you deny having one at all. 

I was messing with you, you say. I choose to believe you, even though I already know this is the wrong choice. 


The police pulled you over because of a busted taillight. They found scales and weed and stacks of cash in the backseat of your car. No weapons. Our grandmother will read about you in the newspaper. 


When you and mom aren’t fighting, you catch up on episodes of The Walking Dead together. A pretend world based on a comic book series where everyone kills everyone. Even the undead. 

The season ends before you go to jail. You watch your favorite character die: the sheriff’s son, Carl, who is your age. He had survived so much in the apocalypse, including getting shot in the face, and for him to die from a zombie bite feels so unfair. Mom sees the tears in your eyes before you wipe them away.


I send you the first collection of The Walking Dead comics while you are incarcerated. According to your limited phone calls with mom, the stillness is difficult to cope with.

Mom told me you were sad about Carl dying in the show, I write in a note. I hope it helps to know that he’s still alive and kicking ass in the books.

In your cell, you read the story of the good, pretend boy who stays alive. Who learns to shoot guns. Not for fun, not for evil, but to survive in a world that wants to consume him. I question what I gift you. Is this a book of horror, or a tale of fantasy? I think it’s somewhere in-between. 


P.S.— Whatever happened to your gun? Maybe you listened to me and got rid of it after all. Maybe you still have it hidden somewhere. What I know for sure is that your gun must have belonged to Chekov. In the first scenes, in the first act of your life. 

In all of our hands.


Pamphlet: Gun Safety Rules (National Rifle Association), Attached to the Following Correspondence

1. Never aim your weapon at what you are not willing to destroy. This is the primary rule.

2. Always treat your weapon as if it is loaded. 

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

4. Know your target and what is beyond.

            A second phallus makes you double the man, makes you feel safe and maybe even a little gangster. Like an Italian mobster, even though you want to be a cop someday.

Correspondence: To My Fourth Boyfriend (2011-2013)

First, an inventory on the mouth of a German Shepherd: spittle-spotted shark teeth embedded in labial gums, brown-black and baby-pink, as if they are hiding mottled meat scraps under their jowls. They cradle a sloppy, innocent tongue. It tries to lick its owner’s forearm shoved between its jaws.

I’m gonna teach him to guard, you say. You pretend to punch it in the ribs. You named it after Julius Caesar’s assassin. 

You have no idea what you’re doing, I say.

I examine the dissembled Glock on your bedroom dresser, note its shiny beetle parts placed like a neatly pinned specimen. You know what needs to be cleaned and how. All those screw-and-spring guts belong somewhere in the cavity. To be reassembled and hidden in a deep denim pocket. A second phallus makes you double the man, makes you feel safe and maybe even a little gangster. Like an Italian mobster, even though you want to be a cop someday.

You tell me about your childhood home in New York before the planes punched holes into towers. All those people dying, and you were abandoned in a dark classroom, certain it was a sign that your parents were dead. 

The last day of the first part of your life. Even after you find out your parents lived. Your paramedic father tended the broken and burned, and your mother was on her way to get you. That’s how a city boy moves to a small South Dakota town and prepares for home invasion. You tell me I should have a gun, too. 

A pink Glock, you say. The color of bubblegum. As if sweetness lessens what it actually is.

I do not want a gun, I say. Over and over. Do not buy me a gun. 


You take me to a shooting range to see if I can get the feel for one. We push a lever to control the distance between us and our targets. Our man-shaped papers run. Black silhouettes in a vacuum. 

A handgun is harder to fire than one might realize. There is resistance in the trigger, each click before the full pull contains the steel reaper’s question: Are you sure? Are you sure?

When I fire, an avalanche of stars fills black hole caverns. Mallets made of comets crash on a cosmic gong. The sound lingers in my skull so much longer than expected.


Once, someone crossed out your name when I wrote it down on a form. They thought I made you up. Translated from Italian, your last name means Saint Mary. Mother of God.

Blessed are thou among women, billions of penitent voices have said.

One night, I want to sleep in my own bed for once. You. Drunk. Crying into the carpet. You need me because you hate being alone. You grab my ankle and don’t let go. When you are sober, you hold my wrists down. Make me late to work so many times, make me call in sick. I almost lose my job. These late arrivals create late nights. So little time. The dog always greets me at the bedroom door. You are already in bed, riddled with questions:

What do you need to wear all that make-up for? You’re just going to work. You look like a prostitute. You trying to impress someone? You cheating on me? You are, aren’t you. 

Nothing to confess. Once, there was a fist-sized hole in painted drywall. Still I say, Hail Mary. Hail Mary. I don’t know anything besides. I have no saints.


You worry. Tell me again that you will buy me a gun. I always say no. I think too many things could go wrong. Too much to clean, too many parts. 

But I do know all the parts I need to on your gun: A magazine I cannot read. The dark-star, cyclops-eye of the barrel which scrutinizes my blank face. A trigger. With your finger on it. 

You are not bothered by resistance. The dog’s apex whine—an airliner before impact. You are still aiming at my head after you pull the trigger.

I didn’t check to see if it was loaded, you say. Schrödinger’s bullet.


Your alarm every night: The sound of —.  Dog ears stand at attention. 
Gonna investigate, you say. You keep fully-loaded magazines in your sock drawer. They whisper shhhk when you push one in. Invite the bullet into its chamber.

You never turn on the lights when you leave the bedroom. What do you seek in emptiness? Hollow shapes contain all possibilities. You ascend the creaking steps, disappointed. Blowing wind and groaning houses trick you yet again. No break-in. No one to shoot. 

You describe to me in detail the things you will do to any motherfucker who decides to enter your home uninvited. Your eyes wide with fantasy-shine. An almost erotic excitement. 

Hungry for fire.


P.S.— One year after I break up with you, I receive a phone call from an unknown number before I attend a performance of Othello at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I let it go to voicemail so I can watch a man kill his wife in jealous rage. I check the voicemail later in my hotel room, and I am surprised that it’s from a detective. 

He has some questions about you. You were honest with him in one of your interviews to become a police officer. You admitted to pointing a gun at me, which is what the detective wants to confirm.

Yes, I say. And he pulled the trigger multiple times. 

Did you ever feel threatened or in danger? he asks.

Did I? I remember feeling anger. Sometimes. But threatened? Danger? 

No, I answer. He thought it was a joke, and I thought it was stupid of him. First rule of gun safety, ya know?

The detective asks more questions that I cannot recall. I am stuck on feeling. Did I feel threatened? Did I feel like I was in danger? My answers to the detective ramble. I can’t decide whether or not I am lying. Or maybe there was nothing to say because the feeling of nothingness was exactly what I couldn’t describe. I didn’t know how.


We run into each other at a murder mystery party hosted by our mutual friends. After everyone finds the killer, you ask me to step outside the apartment with you to talk. I agree, and we smoke my cigarettes on the cement stoop in the sticky August dark. 

I don’t know what you said to that detective, you say. But I owe my livelihood to you.

Is he talking about the party game? Or—

So you got the job, I say, my voice strains. Congrats.

After small-talk formalities in between stretches of silence, you catch me off-guard when your voice shakes. You begin to weep.

I abused you, you say. And I’m not trying to ask for your forgiveness either. 

What are you asking for, then? A remorseful Othello wishes to become awash in sulfuric fire after realizing his errors. I don’t know what to do, or how to feel, when you rest your head onto me. Wet and salt my shoulder. 

Isn’t this something I should want? An apology from an abuser is something few women receive. Yet in this critical moment, I still feel numb, like a predestined hole always in wait for the eventual bullet to pierce it—fill it——exit. I tell you that I forgive you anyway, and yet, I don’t feel like I’m sincere. My heart feels empty, like a Desdemona in your bed, her ear dead to your lamentations. 

My gaze lingers on the stars in the clear night sky. A poetic physicist once said we are made of the same stuff as stars. Before death. Before life.

You will eventually quit your job as a police officer for reasons I will not discover. When I eventually find out you no longer have a badge, I’ll breathe a little easier.

Right now, I practice something I learned long before I ever knew you: I take a drag of my cigarette and ride the smoke upwards to the sky. Exit. A sendoff for my soul into a vain journey to space. And then—dissipation into emptiness.


Correspondence: To My First Boyfriend (2006-2007)

I start dating you when I am fourteen. You are seventeen, dark-haired, cool-eyed. Your last name—Smith—is common and gives you a degree of anonymity. Just like your violence.

When my mother asks how our dates go, I don’t tell her how you ignore me when I say I am nervous and unsure. How you sense my tension and push your fingers into my trembling body anyway. Find where tampons are supposed to go before I can. Home invasion. I take mental notes on where you travel. 

I try navigating the same routes when the blood comes again. Study tampon box pamphlets like maps. Diagrams make little sense when I compare them to the reflection in the mirror between my knees. According to my mother, the pamphlets, and the websites, all I have to do is assume some kind of position and relax before pushing it in. 

These instructions are familiar. You tell me this so many times when we are alone. My hands are already shaking when I pull apart the plastic wrapping. This journey is always treacherous.


When I first tried to use a tampon a year ago, my mother shared a story from her childhood about her neighbor, who died from Toxic Shock Syndrome. At the time, I didn’t understand how someone could un-sense a foreign object in their body, and I am still too young to realize that un-sensing is exactly what I do when your fingers are inside me. 

I associate gritting my teeth with pleasure. Emptiness with wanting. I become your jackrabbit, dead and stuffed. You turn me into an object of fantasy. Corkscrew antlers into my head. Mount and nail me to your wall.


Note: To Self (2019)

How do I write about everything you did? I use too much metaphor.


P.S.— Today is the day the restraining order ends: June 1st, 2010. On this day, you come to the grocery store where I work. Lock eyes with me as you buy a candy bar at the register a few feet away. You don’t say a word as you smile. You don’t have to. You leave me, sweating in the air-conditioning, and enter the hot city afternoon. 

I bet the chocolate melts on your thin, tan fingers when you open the wrapper with steady hands. I bet you grin when you lick it off, thinking you won something that day. Or that you wrote the final page in this story.

You forgot that I am unnailed from your wall. I threw down your antlers, though it’s true the now-empty holes still feel sore. Still, this is proof I was never really dead. Only frozen. And yet, a frightened rabbit is not truly frozen. I found myself in the small breaths that drumroll through a rabbit’s nostrils when it lowers its ears and steels itself. To bolt when the sniffing dog recedes. 

After I escaped, I found power in the sharp edges of a rabbit’s jaw. Your candy-coated fingers are nothing against my incisors. I will figure out how to use them. How to carve.

What I mean to say is, one day, I’m going to figure out how to write about everything you did. Without too much metaphor. With plenty of teeth.


Note: To Self (2019)

After I had my first period at thirteen, it took me three years to figure out how to use a tampon. Once I learned, I remember thinking, that’s it? This is what took me years to figure out? But it was so easy! 

I allow myself more grace now. Now I think, it should have been easy. Using a tampon successfully for the first time shouldn’t have made me so breathless, trembling, with tears of relief in my eyes. With my adrenalized heart trying to flee up my throat and out my mouth. 

A year after the restraining order was issued, I still didn’t feel in control of my body until I learned how to use a tampon, in a basement bathroom, feeling like I had baptized myself. An ancient kind, where I plunge deep into a cold river and almost become swept away. Where I emerge buzzing in the purifying sun. 

I anointed myself with my own blood. A rite of passage—no—more than that. 

A reclamation.


Note: On Target Shooting, Attached to the Following Correspondence

In the business of making holes in a target, a tight cluster in the center is most desirable. This demonstrates consistency.



Correspondence: To a Guy I Went on Two Dates With (2011)

When spoken aloud, your name sounds like the rolling dusty tumbleweed before a high noon shootout scene. You play guitar and wear boots and ride motorcycles and like the band Poison. 

You confess to me that you had a troubled youth. That you once spent time in juvie for threatening a guy with your gun while you were all drunk at a party. But things are different now. 

I like that you’re honest with me. You like that I don’t have sex with you on the first date. 

A lot of girls usually want to, you say. 

You tell me how you lost your virginity to your high school girlfriend when you were twelve. You feel like you should be proud of this. I think. But I sense a part of you that aches.


You are driving me home at the end of our second date in your nice, bone-white car that shines so beautifully we can see our reflections in the body. Then your mother calls you about something you don’t like. You scream at her for twenty minutes. I wonder how many women die hearing the screams of men ringing in their ears.

Your driving is erratic. You, red-faced and white-knuckled. I brace my feet against the car’s immaculate floor and grip the edges of my seat as you weave around traffic. Unpredictable acceleration and deceleration. I imagine this shiny car in an accident: reflections ripple, the body breaks and crumbles. Metal squeals as it comes into violent contact with itself. Trapping our fragile bodies inside. 

I have already retreated to an empty place when you drop me off at my building.

Sorry about that, you say. Stupid drama. My mom and I are actually really close.

You are honest. Unafraid to show me your weapon: a fist for a mouth. You tell me to call you soon when I want to go out again. 

I delete your number.


Correspondence: To My Uncle (2018)

After your daughter’s birthday celebration, we gather in your furnished basement. We combat the sugar-rush of spongy cake and sweet pink frosting. Hold sweating cans of La Croix to support your arduous and uneven path to sobriety. 

You unlock the gun safe next to the popcorn machine, a not-yet-forgotten novelty for movie nights with your wife and daughters. The popcorn machine stands next to the closet packed with girl’s toys—kitchens with plastic food, LEGO sets with pink and purple blocks that can be built into salons and parks and restaurants and malls. The girls drag out their skinny dolls to play house while you show off your gun collection.  

Are any of these loaded? my grandmother—your mother—asks you.

Many of them are, you say. You do not tell us which ones hide bullets in their bellies.

When your mother asks you why, you do not answer.

            When the storm lifts, watch cool blood rain drops on glass window skin— / how they still quake from the low and distant rumbling thunder. / Their memories of lightning linger / so much longer than expected.


I’m always counting things, you say to me once after church. I am a child. You, barely an adult. We are gathered in the parking lot outside, waiting for our family to finish their thirty-minute Midwestern goodbyes to other church families. 

Even though I’m standing here, talking to you, looking you in the eye, you say, I’m counting the bricks behind your head.

To me, this is a magic trick. I try to total the sparse cars in the church parking lot without breaking eye contact. Unsuccessful. Either I can’t look in two places at once, or it’s because the cars keep driving off, carrying families to Sunday dinners.

I shouldn’t have asked why you count. You do not know the answer anyway. I should have asked what you are counting on.


You do not tell us why you keep your guns loaded, but I think I know what you would say. You have seen angels in diners and demons in truck stops. In your dreams, your visions, you witness walls of hellfire. So much suffering. Hear cacophonic blasts of a million trumpets as the sky cracks open, the screams of women and beasts. Sounds of cosmic holy war and righteous death. 

You are not preparing for home invasion, but for something unimaginable to return with your savior’s second coming.

Your mother chooses a handgun and wraps her small, blue-veined hand around the grip.

Is this one loaded?

No, you say. You are so certain. No need to check the magazine or the chamber. 

Your mother curls a knobby index finger on the trigger. Aims into the long-toothed mouth of the safe. All those shiny parts. She blinks hard as she pulls. Her pink finger whitens and strains against the metal. Gears click, grind. More resistance than expected.

While this is happening, I remember the unspoken question I heard several years ago when I held a gun in my hands at a shooting range. When a man I used to love wanted me to buy a gun. Because he was worried. 

Are you sure? The unspoken question. I remember. I want to cry out and tell my grandmother to stop, but I am unable. 

Something isn’t right. A cold sweat breaks over my body. I feel my pulse in my stomach. My throat. I can’t feel my hands, my feet, my face. I am the rabbit, and the dog keeps his nose to the dirt, inhaling my scent, coming closer. 

Something happened. Something is happening. Something is going to happen.  

Maybe he was worried because, deep down, he felt capable of killing me. 

Are you

I cannot retreat to my comfortable emptiness.


Poem: After my grandmother pulls the trigger, I feel

the sound of life: seismic neuron waves pulsate from a secret / center in my murky brain—these displaced ricochets / in my unbroken white skull / plummet me off the precipice into the abyss, open me up to return / feeling to my unfeeling body / and my soul / I had hoped to banish into smoke, into space. / Look inside me, now, at what stirs / under my storm clouds. See the rabbits tremble in my marrow / dogs howl and gnash their teeth on my bones. / When the storm lifts, watch cool blood rain drops on glass window skin— / how they still quake from the low and distant rumbling thunder. / Their memories of lightning linger / so much longer than expected.


Correspondence: To My Son, Still Unnamed, Who Inhabits Me (2018-2019)

I take in the honey-yellow ultrasound image of your sweet, sleeping face. You are an unnamed resident in a body that is no longer totally mine. I am okay with this now. You are not a home invader, but an inhabitant. A growing part of me. 

The technician tells your father and I that you will be our son. We are surprised because we expected a daughter. Do not mistake our surprise for disappointment. It’s just that I had dreamed you, and your name—Nora—and I cradled this girl version of you in my arms. We had backup boy names just in case, but now that I have seen your face, none of them feel right. 


Before we decide a name for you, I wonder: What kind of man will you become? The mothers of Smith and Saint Mary once cradled their small baby boys in their arms. Fed them milk and mashed foods. Held their hands while crossing dangerous streets. 

Your hands will slip away from mine to hold on to other things. Will you be close enough for me to cover your ears against sounds of death before you wander too far away?

Or will your hands become weapons? Will your fingers rest in the curve of a trigger, unbothered by resistance? What, or who, would come into your crosshairs?


Your father was a hunter. When he was a teenager, he and his grandfather would awake before dawn to perch in a tree stand. Pray for prey. In his perch, he practiced his predator skills. A forest is loud, but he learned how to listen for unique sounds. When something bigger stirs, the squirrels will chitter. Branches break.

Once, the forest moved, and your father waited for a buck. An animal with weapons. A small doe appeared instead. Not desirable. Your father raised his rifle scope to his eye to watch it anyway.

At any minute, I could have ended its life, he tells me. But I didn’t.

And how did that make you feel? I ask your father, not meaning to sound like a therapist, but I do anyway. I’m not sure if he will answer. Your father doesn’t talk about his feelings often. Says he doesn’t know how to talk about emotions. But your father doesn’t take long to answer this time.

It made me feel powerful. 


For Christmas, I buy your father a grey t-shirt with an oak tree in the center. I spent hours searching for the right design and finally settled on the tree. He smiles when he opens the present, says thank you. 

That’s not all! I say. Look underneath.

He finds the grey newborn onesie with an acorn in the center. I didn’t expect your father to cry. I’ve probably only seen him cry three times in the six years we’ve been together. Your father is a very good man, and the love of my life. But like all other men in my life, or the men that have passed through, he carries a degree of emotional stunting. He’s also the only one who has never taken it out on me.

I am still working on stopping myself from feeling responsible. To cease filling gaps made by male pain. I am so tired of emptying myself into men’s empty spaces as they dig their caverns into me.

My son, I think I want to teach you how to weep, like your father is, here, now. His tears of love for you wash through me, fill my soul. I think weeping is the sound of life.


Six years old, BB gun in hand, your father works his small-booted legs through the overgrown thickets with his family. He breaks into a sweat — the jacket he needed this morning has become too hot now, even in the shady trees. He works hard to clamor over sprawling, mossy branches and—

Watch the ground for pheasant nests! someone says. There are plenty of signs of life to watch for on the ground. Deer beds. Snake holes. Gopher holes. Rabbit holes. 

Soon there is a flash of wing. A ring. An eye. The men and women raise their guns and fire into thrush. No warning for small ears. 

So many sounds of death, so loud! Your father throws down his child’s gun and covers his ears as the birdshot whizzes by. Good god, the screeching! Blood and feathers explode like fireworks. 
The drooling dogs whine, so eager are they to retrieve the bodies when the shooting is done. 

Your father’s ears ring when he lowers his shaking hands. Before the hunters cheer and collect their quarry, there is an unnatural silence. Nothing stirs. Your father holds his breath. Listens to the forest hold its breath. Everything waits to run.

Chelsea Campbell is a writer from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and is an MA English candidate at the University of South Dakota. She loves her husband and her son as well as getting lost in a metaphor. You can find more of her poetry and creative non-fiction in Kestrel, littledeathlit, and Persephone's Daughters.

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