I think the best poem about a car-struck deer is Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark.”
Like Hayden Carruth’s “Mother,” (see my last post) Stafford’s poem is, for me, a kind of zenith–something to which I might aspire, but look, it’s already been done. So why pen my versions of the experience? Especially when I am not the writer Stafford was.
And might a reader accuse me of hijacking Stafford’s imagery when I write about similar incidents? I suppose I do run that risk. Nonetheless, the whitetails occur often in my poems from the past 20 years because I live in eastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has an estimated 1.5 million deer—about 30 deer per square mile–and I suspect that in the suburban-rural zones such as the region where I reside, the number is higher.
As a writer, my inclination has pretty much ever been to write about environment and place and to supply anecdote or lyrical narrative. Deer abound in my environment and in my work; and deer get killed on the roads here. The imagery lodges in my consciousness. After so many years observing them, deer have become both subject and metaphor. I may swerve, but I cannot always avoid them.
The following poem is from my collection Water-Rites, and here it is the speaker’s husband who pushes the doe’s body off to the side of the road. The presence of children changes the perspective considerably, despite other similarities to the Stafford poem. Maybe that is all I can offer: a slightly changed perspective, a different closure. I cannot un-moor myself from the images and places that inhabit me.
We glimpsed the doe
trying to rise, and failing,
in the roadside darkness.
“Stay here,” my husband said—
and a moment later,
“She’s hit.” I nodded. I’d seen
skidmarks on macadam.
The doe lay on her side and thrashed
while our engine idled,
my husband placed his hand
on her neck.
In the car, our son stared
at the darkness. Our daughter wept:
“He’s frightened the deer.
She’s kicking to get away.”
The doe jerked, paused. “No,”
I said, “Your father is touching it.
Soothing it, so it will not die alone.”
He knelt by the quieting body.
Blood ran from the muzzle.
One ear twitched, I could see it
in the headlights. Death
closed in, a gentle exhalation.
My husband eased the carcass
off the road shoulder. He said,
“She must have suffered awhile.”
“Stupid cars,” my daughter muttered.
Her outrage engulfed our station wagon.
My son watched the white-
throated body, the yellow
forsythia lit by car lights.
He said, “Close the windows, please.”
Poet and blogger Molly Spencer recently posted a lively consideration about recurring and repeating images here: https://mollyspencer.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/the-spider-why-the-spider-or-a-defense-of-recurring-images/
Worth a read, and worth discussion, too.
Stafford’s poem is great, I agree, but yours is very powerful, too, and certainly occupies a territory, or territories, all its own. And you’re right, deer – and roadkill – are unavoidable topics for rural PA poets. Imagine if everyone stopped writing love poems after Shakespeare, or poems about the moon after Saigyo!
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