You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk,
swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home
at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves
and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre
of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer
till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,
small moons glowing. You crank the wheel,
stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt
into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass
in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin
and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured
by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car
still running, its lights angled up at the trees.
You get out. The deer lies on its side.
A doe, spinning itself around
in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,
back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—
again and again this terrible bleat.
You watch for a while. It tires, lies still.
And here's what you do: pick the deer up
like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—
the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer
the wagon out of the ditch and head home,
night rushing in through the broken window,
headlight dangling, side-mirror gone.
Your nose throbs, something stabs
in your side. The deer breathing behind you,
shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home
and the deer scrambles to life, its long head
appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror
and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder
and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail
till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.
Your father's waiting up, watching tv.
He's had a few drinks and he's angry.
Christ, he says, when you let yourself in.
It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him
some of what happened: the dark road,
the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles
the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence.
Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,
drags the quivering deer out by a leg.
What can you tell him—you weren't thinking,
you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix
what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body,
color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter?
The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.
Your father walks to the toolshed,
comes back lugging a concrete block.
Some things stay with you. Dumping the body
deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent
in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.
From The Pleasure Principle by Jon Loomis. Reprinted by permission of Oberlin College Press, Field Poetry Series, v. 11. Copyright © 2001 by Jon Loomis. All rights reserved.
Jon Loomis is the author of The Mansion of Happiness (Oberlin College Press, 2016). He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Date Published: 2001-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/deer-hit