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"Scrub Oak Leaves”
Alison Parham

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Louise Thornton

The Deer

When the rains came two years
after you left they slammed
against the windows night after night
and again I dreamed you were holding me,
your mouth on mine, body pressed
into my breasts and thighs, wanting me,
wanting. When I was nearly bursting
with longing I awoke. Broke into
violent weeping, wrapped my arms
around my chest as if I could stop
sorrow from tearing through my rib cage.

I have mourned enough, sudden outbursts
while driving, mornings while the toast blackened,
the cold darkness of three a.m.
If you had died I could have heaped
your grave with lilacs and wild iris,
marked it with a solid stone. Let me
be done with grieving I keen
into the rain. Let me be clean.

One morning after the rains ceased
I walked along a narrow road sloping
down to a creek trickling through
the canyon below me and I saw
a deer lying next to the water,
his head arching toward the trees
along the banks as if he quenched
his thirst, turned slightly
and surrendered to the earth.

I wondered if he was part of the herd
of deer that comes crackling
in the night through the apple orchard
below my deck to nibble at the tender
bark, a gift from the night, but no.
Only does run together. He would have
stayed apart and solitary.
I did not approach him.
It was enough to see his soft, brown body
on the sand, antlers lifted to the sky
in supplication.

When I returned to the creek
a thin, gray coyote, the same one
that watched me one morning
from a distance, barking in sharp yips,
was ripping chunks of flesh
from the deer's flanks, body taut
as if he feared I would take the deer
from him. "it's all right," I called to him.
"I don't want anything."

Two weeks later the deer's body
was swarming with maggots, fat creamy
masses wriggling over strands of tissue
clinging to the carcass,
the antlers gone, nothing left but nubs
scarred by the teeth of a saw.
His legs were twisted in sharp angles
and ragged tufts of hair trailed
over the grasses. Black hooves, small
crescents, scattered among the stones.

The next time I went to the creek,
the skeleton was exposed. Hard white
bones gleamed in the early light.
I crouched down, picked up a slender femur,
trailed my fingers along its smooth curve,
held it against my cheek.
I closed my eyes, listened to the creek
running beneath terraces of ferns
and young laurels fanning to the canyon's
edge. When I opened them,
umbrella plants bobbed to me
from the shallows and a long bird
sang a three note song, one note
high, two in a low lament.

A month later heavy rains again
pummeled the earth and then
one morning an arch of blue, violet
and pale orange rose over the headlands
and the air was new.
Light bounced from the leaves
radiant as the trees of Eden.
I descended once more to the creek bed
where the rain had cut a deeper swath
and water fell over a long jam in a low roaring.
When I could not find the bones I was glad,
believed they had been released to the sea.
Then I saw vertebrae sprawled
in a haphazard circle. The backbone lay
broad and flat. Ribs bridged from the center.

I stared at them for a long time. All winter
I had surrendered and dissolved,
dissolved and let go. I breathed in the moist air
in a long inhalation, and as I exhaled
my bones realigned themselves: ankle, fibula,
tibia, femur, pelvis, sacrum, clavicle, skull.
It was then I saw the hoof prints
of a single deer imprinted on the sand
by the water's edge as if she had stopped
to drink from the stream and then stepped
into the morning.

LOUISE THORNTON – co-edited I Never Told Anyone: Poems and Stories by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and published the book The Seamstress.  For the last hundred years she has been working on a memoir with the working title: ‘Recovering from Schizophrenia:  a mother, a son, hope and a yellow submarine.”

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