Walk­ing through a Deer


mid-May is sweet­grass flow­er­ing time

where wil­lows meet the wet meadow.

Hie­rochloe odor­ata, first of grasses here

is cir­cum­bo­real, holy to many

with one knee on a dry tus­sock and bend­ing,

I sniff the pyra­mid-shaped pan­i­cle.

on three-flow­ered, ma­genta spikelets

green, bronze, sil­ver and gold flecks

dance in the breeze and my un­steady fin­gers

then again

and again

and again

the flo­rets are de­light­ful

but of­fer noth­ing for the nose.

I find sweet

in a bit of taken leaf—sweet, vanilla-like!

it is vanilla grass to many

from a few in­flo­res­cences, I walk through a deer

that died in win­ter

and since, pro­vided for all com­ers ....

threads and tufts of grey and white fur

—some al­ready gath­ered,

taken and wo­ven into bird nests

or, jour­neyed through coy­ote—

and bones with yel­low bits

re­main on a spongy ta­ble for pick­ing

at rau­cous ban­quets

by vis­it­ing raven, crow, mag­pie,

blue jay, chick­adee,

fox, coy­ote,

ground squir­rel, mouse, vole,

ant, fly and in­vis­i­ble ones.

a black feather near the skull

that car­ried antlers a few months ago

and an in­tri­cate white spine

is per­haps a cheeky tip

or a re­spect­ful “thank-you”

a large, white-tailed deer flashed by me

here within arm’s reach

a year or two ago

in a star­tling mo­ment

rush­ing from the road with­out see­ing me,

run­ning through me

on a trail it knew well, trusted

that it led to sanc­tu­ary in denser growth

or be­yond, in an­other smaller meadow

where orange, black and white mon­archs visit berg­amot,

blaz­ing star and gold­en­rod be­fore they leave

—the deer-filled mo­ment is en­dur­ing

my first deer

are in a fam­ily por­trait

—a 1953 black and white—

taken at the botan­i­cal gar­den’s trop­i­cal house.

two of us, near­ing four and six,

wear run­ning deer across our chests

that are per­haps Hunor and Magor’s en­chanted deer

—an image from me­dieval or bib­li­cal times,

from older pic­to­graph or pet­ro­glyph,

or a grand­mother’s story—knit­ted into our pullovers.

poised above our hearts

they are in full flight to un­known places

palm fronds form a dark back­ground

above a lighter rock out­crop

and there are in­dis­tinct blos­soms

or, orchids in a hanger

be­side our mother’s face

—they could have been pink or yel­low,

hare­bell blue or white.

rock, trees, leaves, flow­ers

are etched in de­grees of grey

like our fa­ther’s, thirty-two-year-old’s, smile,

and the calm tod­dler...

the path is well worn

wide enough for an en­chanted deer

but too nar­row for a per­son.

leaf­ing branches are clos­ing the deer’s way

wil­low flow­ers are be­com­ing cot­ton

then, like fly­ing snow

they’ll form white drifts in new grass

with wind­blown seeds

of cot­ton­wood, bal­sam and white poplar.

well-hid­den birds deep in the wil­lows

sing green shoots into flow­ers at the edge

helped with time’s coloured threads and del­i­cate needle­work:

early blue vi­o­let, wild straw­berry

golden Alexan­der, Canada louse­wort, pale co­man­dra,

tall but­ter­cup, north­ern rag­wort, cancer root be­side the bones,

Seneca snake­root, small then large yel­low lady’s slip­per,

star-flow­ered false Solomon’s seal,

Canada anemone, pink py­rola

and shy, yel­low, tufted looses­trife twins

shall each at­tend

by mid-June, bur­geon­ing ver­dure

—large, green-and-grey, ar­rowleaf sweet colts­foot leaves,

dark-green wire rush as thin as knit­ting nee­dles,

bur reed and bent­grass—

shrouds the re­main­ing hide, fur, bones, skull

and the key­board of ver­te­brae

as it con­tin­ues play­ing

si­lence-filled, win­ter mu­sic

born at the end of this deer’s flight

where cat­bird, mourn­ing dove

and other birds con­tinue sing­ing,

deep-veined leaves are the pre­lude to orchids

grow­ing in white ca­lyxes.

un­der tan­gled branches,

they be­come pink and white slip­pers

and those that linger an ex­tra week

will dance with mu­sic- and song-filled breezes

that find paths into the wil­lows

at Folk Fes­ti­val time.

then, del­i­cate, white grass-of-Par­nas­sus fol­low

as a cel­e­bra­tion in the wet meadow

past their brief flow­er­ing,

ab­sorbed in colour-dot­ted greens,

sweet­grass culms and leaves

like the deer re­mains

will be hid­den un­til next May

with a sweet­ness newly found

in an ar­rived har­bin­ger of nascence,

a pu­ri­fier, pathfinder and mes­sen­ger

I con­tinue walk­ing through a deer

at the wil­low edge

un­til gold­en­rods, John Franklin’s white

and all the blue asters,

fringed and closed gen­tian

yield their last nec­tar to bum­ble­bee

and ar­rive at senes­cence

...and amaz­ingly,

deer con­tinue run­ning through me

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