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Michael Sowder – III

The Deer  





Loose jowls and snake eyes, their mouths

packed with diamonds, two Dobermans chained

in the pickup lunge at Aidan and me

as we get our packs from the car.


We turn at the canyon’s ridge line

and see them crisscrossing the sage,

zigzagging toward us, lithe as leopards,

scratching up the dust.  A woman’s yelling,

but she’s not in control.


They veer closer, and Aidan says, Daddy? 

They won’t bother us, I say, but I pick him up.

The woman yells again and they angle off out of sight.


We sit under a lightning-blasted juniper

sharing apples, raisins, string cheese,

Aidan nestled between my legs.


Three vultures float into the canyon

at eye level, wings wide like black surf coming in.


Daddy, what’s that?  In the grass a jumble

of ribs and legs sticking up like pick-up sticks.

The hide torn open, bones scattered, a half-naked skull

looking back at the catastrophe of its body.


Is it dead?  Aidan asks, and, then, asks again,

What does “dead” mean? 


Well, when your body can’t keep going anymore it just stops. 


Well, the part inside, the part that feels and thinks, 

goes back up to the stars.


He looks up, where the sun drags its broken light

like some gold-haired beauty behind

the mountains.


Do people die?  

When they get old.  

Are you old? 


I’m saved by Dobermans.

Here they come, scouring the ridge like a brush fire.

I hurl rocks, swoop Aidan up.

We watch them swerve by, tearing

down the slope.  At the canyon floor they leap

into the truck, and the truck sputters off

dragging its brown tongue of dust.


I stand on the hillside as the sky darkens.  We revel

in the warmth between our bodies, hooked

in patterns of holding four-years-old.


I’d like to keep him here, behind

my crossed arms, wreathed in childhood,

where mountain lions forever leap

smilingly through brightly-painted books.


We pick our way down the talus-strewn slope,

and he keeps looking back, back

at the doe—trying to understand,

to put things back together with my words.