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Late Pastoral

ISSUE:  Winter 2004

for Linda Gregerson


At first only fog lifting off
the snow and snow
     sifting through it,
     then Pepper pointing to the last

pocket of night among
the densest pines,
     each life for an instant
     in calm regard of the other, and the deep breath

shuddered—the whomff—the stern
explosion meant
     not to startle but warn,
     so the big doe stood her ground, then

ran. Or not, she being lame, she being
the solitary deer
     four times this week
     so close to the house with her three-

footed hobble, her track
with its triplet prints
     and unmistakable scuff
     where a back leg drags through the drifts.

There’s nothing below
where her slender knee should be.
     she has vanished again, shadow among shadows

back to the woods, taking her tattered
rags of breath
     and fluff of tail,
     the sheltie straining at his leash.


And of that sound,
what can I tell you?—
     lingering deep
     as a bear’s, drawn up from the gut, chest

broadened until her breath blows out
with great force, plosive
     at the nose.
     The sound’s like the swumpp of snow sliding

off the eaves, inevitable action-at-
     of gravity
     from spring’s slow melt.

The ancients thought such behaviors were
rooted in the nature of things
     in themselves
     —arrows dying, a stone in the creek—whose counter-

weight they saw in a floating feather
as levity,
     as in wood, wind,
     or the spirit of the doomed and beloved arising.

My hunter neighbor says
the sound is a feature
     of wilder
     deer. Not those accustomed to our houses and smells,

our noise, who float quickly among
trash cans and orchards
     and flee
     before we know they’re among us.


It’s the acorns she comes for,
there being nothing to eat
     in the woods,
     the woods being iced-over, snow-solid, for weeks.

I have found
     the gnawed and spat
     splatter of hedge apples, that’s how desperate

they are, driven toward us
by too little to forage,
     by vanishing trees
     and razed fields, by exurbs, by white-

flight and our insatiate hunger for size
and space and tax
     advantages. She grubs down,
     she snuffles under oaks, blowing back snow

to chew the hard nubbin acorns
though they’re frozen,
     and sparse. I have watched her

from my dark window.
I have felt the gravity of the days.
     What can I tell you
     that you don’t know? Little

remains. We have a new dog, did I say?
He bears
     his lineage well—from the pastoral herders
     of ancient highlands, who

accompanied us, who helped us,
and who from a distance seem almost
     —wouldn’t you say it’s still so?—
     to float.


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