The buck walks onto my snowy lawn,
a three-point. He shakes his antlers in the sun
and nibbles the old leaves of apple trees.
He is both word and flesh.
I know this ragged buck in winter’s early guise
prefers to be outside my calculating eye.
He stops and looks back into morning’s window frame,
then stands inside his ink like that rusty smell
inside the apple leaf.
He imprints the snow and flicks his tail,
pushing forward a little balloon of breath,
dropping pellets like periods and ellipses in the snow.
He sniffs and eats the frost-edged leaves.
The cross-hairs of the eye watch him nibble
across the poem’s orchard, like the mind’s
registering the things it feeds on.
At the cracking of a branch, the scent of threat,
any sideways motion, the poem and buck
are poised to run then later reassess.
If I mounted his lovely head on the page—
his black muzzle in a half smile, ears alert,
glossy eyes awake—as emblem
of all those lovely nature poems,
more word than world, he might resent
my use of him, as I would if my face
were in an ad for aging cream.
If I let the cougar who has been here before
pounce and seize his neck, some order
is restored with claws and incisors.
Or he might embody my looking out today
and his looking in, how feeling’s returned
in guises we can’t predict.
Outside and inside my frosty window
I let him eat the leaves and twigs
in my apple trees, even to their peril,
until he wanders off into the thing
he was before he first appeared
and the word and flesh were one.
Back then, they seemed so assured
about the ways they enlarged their marvels—
giving moles wings, injured birds the face of God;
or how they slammed syllables in incantations—
hawk-hung angelic eye shivering the shire,
ancient ploughland, its breath and bones
rising from the mire. I drank their words,
wore their clothing, smoked their pipes,
fashioned songs to echo theirs. Larger than life,
their deaths made the eons whimper.
Now I see the places they stopped,
felt lost, turned back with no one there,
climbed next without a trail,
yodeled loudly to hear their echoes,
pushed off a rock to watch it roll
in wild leaps down hills, off cliffs,
to relish boredom, or conjure a restless
inner magic. If they made it to old age,
and many didn’t, how stubbornly they clung
to that part of the past they made new.
They scolded the young too close to them,
or who took a completely different turn.
Like them, Homer’s Mentor cursed the men of Ithaca
and the future kings of such a place
for letting the savage suitors over-run
the palace and his friend’s reputation.
Yet any palace is over-run by time’s advance.
Though they might follow knowledge
like a sinking star, it’s they and us who sink
behind the starlight’s reach.
Each of us is destined to be a foppish hat,
old boots, an era’s tailored suit.
But here, in their forgotten pages,
where all our kingdoms come,
like an old docent, I dust their furniture
sweep their floors, and keep their fires burning,
to warm a time that time so soon forgets.
Photo of whitetail deer buck silhouetted by Tom Reichner, courtesy Shutterstock.