Gutting the deer, down among the blasts
of fallen leaves, golden and red against
the gray of winter pending, and the red,
of course, of blood, and the more various
shades of insides—the yellows and purples
and pure, resistant whites you don’t think of
until you’re doing the work—is not what
strummed, beat in, certainly not what
set to singing, my senses.
It was earlier, before the hunter made his shot,
lying in the cabin alone, listening to samba—
Brazil, bronzed skin, and costumes tailored
to display it dancing out of headphones
powered by battery, from an improbable gift
mailed by a friend. While I wore flannel,
thick, stiffening with blood, and held
the basic makings of a life in my hands
(this organ is for breathing in, that for emitting
waste) it was with wishfulness for what could be
that I was occupied. It was thinking
far beyond here, of the future, a tune
from the genre of expectant compositions,
with which I hummed.
And I remembered the sender, her profuse dresses:
Always satin for ballroom dancing, white, of course,
for her wedding, and then full swirls draping
the stomach that keeps giving her children. She intends
to have eight. I am too timid to dance and even without
electricity or a phone, hours from any neighbor,
in all that loneliness, I could not imagine how I could
afford to keep just one child. But deer ticks
don’t let go of their host body even when it’s dead,
I was reminded, down running the knife through
the infested fur of the belly. And I held on
to some idea of elegance, or rather a smaller hope,
not for a dramatic partner dance, but that some things
can slip into a matched step, one person caring
for or feeding from another.
Walking home with the deer’s head
held by one antler in my hand (it was too bloody
to put in the truck) I talked to it. He probably couldn’t hear
or didn’t want my explanations. And though I did not
tell him how poor I was or promise to eat only berries
henceforth, when I arrived at the house, his eyes,
which had been flung open all afternoon as I did
what I must to his muscles, had eased closed.
I did wish I could feed on berries. Blackberries
were the closest thing to the company of other
women in those woods, with the sensitive flesh
that tripled warmth when days offered it, had sweetness
washed away by a hard rain, and dried out if left long.
So I was too remote to have friends and one cannot live by
plucking softly food from bushes that go on undamaged—
still there is a shine of a rhinestone kind inside. In the guts
of deer, or any animal, unwrapped from the layers
of membrane, there is luminousness—wet coils, taut sacks,
organs with oil slick opal sheen. Inside my friend,
a pink furl, another satisfied desire, floats and grows,
fills her hollows. She’s expecting again.
And I have my expectations. As did the buck who intended
to continue, certainly on to the next episode of grass
between ferns, maybe over the hill to the apples, a belief
that could have made him happy, or further. I, planning
my winter of eating, my store of meat, assumed
I’d go on living. That day, there within the boundaries
of my small property, whether or not I’d noticed, while crowds
clapped on to other rhythms in warmer countries, a wish
of mine (mine and not everyone’s, not his) was granted.
All aspirations are wild, maybe greedy, maybe made great
by sequins or spleen.
Rose McLarney's collection of poems, The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, is published by Four Way Books. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Orion, Slate, New England Review, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and many other journals. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry at Oklahoma State University.