The street-smart chime of the chainmail net rings
From down at the Peaceful Valley court where
Tod and Henry clang away on iron rims
That don’t forgive much, beneath the concrete stairs
That lead to Brown’s Addition where the doctors
Ordered houses built by men who live hereabouts.
Henry’s shorts are saggin’, his teen-aged pockets
Knee-high as he rags his pap’s horrible
Defense down low, while his son scoops another
Underhanded layup that surprises
His dad every time. In my day, a father
Misplayed his kid’s bunt with obvious wild
Throws that led to an infield home run—
The lies we tell ourselves are half the game.
Northbound on 395
Two cars ahead on the highway a deer
Stepped out of the fog and into the grille
Of a small red car, a new one, and we
All came to a stop: young woman, deer, and me.
If what happened next was supposed to be
Some sort of Blessing or Benediction
I say no thanks: send me straight to Hell.
The deer, a yearling the size of a toddler
In a hard winter, pawed the snow and blew
Sprays of blood from its nostrils, going, not
Yet gone. I broke the plastic fender off
And asked her to pop the trunk, where I found
The bent tire iron that would, momentarily,
Loose us both from that wild, appraising eye.
Sonnet for a Baby Seal
Not the one you see on television,
Head tilted up to look like a whiskered
Infant, those pleading, liquid eyes . . . this one
Was real, on black Alaskan sand, ridiculous
With an eagle beating its wings against
The seal’s head, both screaming, the pup too young
To get away, too old to die all at once.
The eagle, talons buried, pecked at one
Eye only, to force a way in. Of course
I beat the eagle off with driftwood.
Yes, I tried to kill the baby seal. No one
Could say I didn’t try hard enough.
But when I turned to leave, it swam away,
Blinded, silent, bearing news from Hell.
Why does he have to wind up on my dash-
board, barely strong enough to hover,
much less pose any kind of threat: black-
striped stinger pulsing like a lover?
Why am I so sure it’s a He, impotent
little death-dealer? In my beat-down car,
we’re stuck together: dying insect,
feeble, humped against the glass, starved
for one sip of the holy grape that droops
just beyond the veil, succulent cluster
gone overripe and unpicked, wasted fruits,
lost opportunities and the stray disaster
just a windshield away. Stiffly, the window
driver’s side rolls down. Stumbling, off we go.
Dennis Held is the author of two poetry collections: Betting on the Night and Ourself, in which these poems originally appeared. He lives in Spokane, Washington, along Latah Creek.