You haven’t learned to walk well enough,
he tells you. Too tender-footed, too slow.
You make your way down the soft silt
of the creek bank. Today you will be agile
like the deer whose path you take.
You’re careful not to mar the cloven
when you lay your own heart down
beside them. In cabins, you live
amongst the bears. The black
bear on the cabin porch announced its presence
in much the same way a drunk man you sometimes loved
leaves you. Thudding noisily away at first,
and then quietly, indistinguishable as the trees.
In panic, in a herd, the sheep sometimes
run across the rolling green hills and off
the lips of cliffs. We told stories of what happened
after the party, after the police car’s lights danced
upon the inside walls. A boy my age ran
frightened as a spring lamb or the deer you fear
your windshield will someday meet.
Not the glowy-eyed one beside the highway,
but the one that will dart out, feral-like,
erratic as campfire sparks.
When the boy ran off into the woods
behind the house, he ran right off the shale-cliff.
Upright and thirty-feet below,
his vertebrae folding in like the beginning
of thirty-three origami cranes.
You left me where the path stopped,
where the deer must have ventured up
past the private property sign.
Perhaps I will get fined for being too close
to this rock that is owned by the person
beyond the fence. Today I will be a deer.
You can’t fine a deer.
If we divide up our hearts and put up fences,
you will at any one time only know part of what I feel.
The shale walls are high.
The snow patches are stubborn here,
but beneath the sun my gray is silver,
my care is cloven and upside-down.
In sun, my mother travels the highway
to the house of the boy who can no longer walk
and feeds him spoonfuls of oatmeal with maple syrup.
Back and forth she drives beside the abandoned deer bodies
that have reappeared after the winter thaw.
Sometimes, she says, she doesn’t recognize them
for what they are. Part dog. Part prehistoric dactyl.
Part bird. Before she leaves she rubs his legs down,
hangs his sheets out,
and leaves them up to dry.
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