It was the deer that drew me, the rub of red
brash through brown in a field of ragged
saplings, stray forsythia, white crowns of lace,
behind the barbed wire and chainlink fence
of the Marathon Battery superfund site.
It was still, or nearly still, feeding amid
legislation in the not field, not meadowed
lot, and deadpanned back my stupid gaze.
I had been drinking with a friend. No,
that’s not quite right. He was watching me
drink, as I rambled on about Edgerton’s
strobe photography. Who would spend a life
trying to capture a drop of milk? Freud,
my friend said, then screwed up his face.
You are not really asking, are you? No clue
and no idea what the deer wanted, though
it seemed to say: Dude, draw. I mean
pull the eye to act as eye and pencil,
the sketch flowering in the marginalia
of a Chinese takeout menu. I admit now
that I am as far from understanding deer
as I am from watching milk fall.
But I stood there waiting for the influence
that happens in such moments. No dice.
And, yeah, the midday beer, but I swear
the deer wanted this moment too, for me,
like she was doing me a pastoral solid,
like she would’ve stayed in the swill
and debris of last century’s science,
until the streetlights and the stars’ white brush
would break us into a Brooklyn sublime.
It didn’t happen. The deer bolted clear,
and all I got was a snaggle of goldenrod
and hoof-struck sumac. But who cares.
I am not sure the deer lived through winter
or past rush hour, vulture and crow
carrying cadmium home to messes of young.
I love my friend, how, after a lecture
on strobography, he returns me to the land
of no bullshit. When I got up to leave the bar,
he said, how is your mother? I didn’t say
the last time I saw her I leaned over her bed
and asked if I could take her picture
with my phone, that she said something
I couldn’t quite hear. And once she passed out
I took a pic anyway. I remember thinking
I could show it to my friend and say: See,
this is the last picture of my mother alive.
But that would’ve been unkind, like expecting
this deer to pose forever. So, Dying, is all I said.
But I told myself I will sit at the kitchen table
and draw her face, as it was before it went.
I’m no good. Don’t ask to see it, it barely
suggests her warmth, how we bathed in it.
And don’t ask where this comes from, this want
to be drawn, captured, disappeared,
even if all we end with is a vague fragment
of a landscape we see but fear to breathe,
thumbing the mind for that word that means
something resembling milk. Maybe, it will come
when I lie down in bed and imagine my mother,
deer leaping into wood, a slow burn, a crash.
Maybe it will. And I will leave it at that.