WHAT SHE WAS
Deer in Summer
She came as we walked one evening
in a field of blond corn: just a ripple of barley
in low sunlight, and her back
appearing above it in a sudden arc
like a brown dolphin, accompanying us nearly
to our door, as dolphins sometimes accompany a ship.
That night, the storm. Before it broke,
the sound of something snuffling in our kitchen,
tearing at plastic with its claws and teeth
in a trail of yoghurt-pots. Then the lightning came closer,
closer, against the black
as the nut-tree at the window
started to thrash its snapping limbs and shriek
and I seemed to see her leaping
through the standing barley to a dry place
with her unseen fawn. Now as the fine hairs rise
on our arms, while I shiver
imagining the breaking of the next wave,
I want to believe
they lie together nestled in a deep
hollow lined with leaves, and sleep out the thunder.
All morning the tractors have been trundling across
our field, outlined against sky
or down there in the valley, muffled, then turning up
behind us with another swathe of cut hay
when we see the deer again,
a brownish streak between seedheads – caught
in her panic to escape
the dust, the metallic thunder,
while a tide of flattened grass laps at the green
trapezium she stands in, in a rout
of fieldmice and crickets, frogs, grasshoppers and larks
shrilling their fear between the last stalks.
Where were we when the frantic creatures broke
and flew for cover? We must have been out
paddling our fibreglass canoe
through the shallows, learning to shift our weight
into deeper water; or was it later
as we strolled the alleyways and galleries of stone
in search of that carved Last Judgement, its faceless shape
sinking in an abraded pan –
or was it a leaky boat?
When she makes her final leap across the sunlit stubble
every last thought is gone.
She barely looks up from her grass
at the sound of feet, filling her soft skin
before winter, but as I run past
her deep eyes seem to hold everything
in stillness. If I were up close
I’d see myself red-faced
in my kit and trainers, pausing to let my heart
subside in my throat and the day
tick gently, a plane drifting across.
That world in her eye
could crumble, burst into flame,
and the tiny people float down
like ash, their final messages
make rings in her iris as they fly apart.
Deer in Darkness
I sensed rather than saw them move
in the darkness, the dark fractionally displaced
at the edge of seeing, and flowing back
invisible, the touch of a blind ghost –
identical molecules of air replacing one another
or a kaleidoscope where every piece
is black, and slides silently into place.
Just a flicker as something shied past –
starlight or winking plane, the gleam of silver
birch trunks swaying, fall of a frosted leaf –
was a tail waltzing alone on the dark grass
and something invisible had changed places,
stirred in the darkness, shifted, or stepped over.
First light. A whole small herd of deer
stands nudging at my glass door
with their noses, jostling one another,
their breath painting the pane silver,
each in her small slick of clear.
I open a crack
and in they streak
between door-jamb and frame
in a reek of matted hair and something trodden,
leaving their warm roughness on my hands.
The deer I know by day
are shy, wary of humans,
ready to leap into a dark place
with a flash of scut, but these
flow in and in like strands
of braided water, weaving and interweaving
till I have to wake
and feel their noses on my face,
my breasts, nudging between my thighs.
What She Was
She jumps silently away
through moonlight, startled, and at first
she’s not herself: she’s a rocking-horse
swaying on rockers buried deep under snow,
her tail a white paintbrush –
or she’s some kind of small boat
making for harbour, plunging from crest to crest,
powder bursting all round her like spray.
Then she is what she is. As we drive away
I imagine her curled somewhere – just a deer in fresh snow,
forced to jump clear of a drift
into the trees’ shelter. The moonlight sifting
between trunks was incidental. She was in too deep,
floundering, almost ungainly –
though there was grace there too: a slow V
widens behind her like a ship’s wake.
And now I’ve lost her entirely.
Against a backdrop of sirens, streets, suburban houses,
she’s no longer deer. She’s barely
a silver rocking in the corner of my eye,
escaping towards woods. Yet something in me still pauses,
watches as she crests the wave and plunges,
feels itself blinded as she rises.
[Susan Wicks’s latest book, Cold Spring in Winter, a translation of the french poet Valerie Rouzeau (Arc, 2009), was shortlisted both for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for Literary Translation and the Griffin International Poetry Prize in Toronto. She has a short novel forthcoming from Salt and a sixth collection of poems, House of Tongues, from Bloodaxe in 2011]
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