Your uncles leave you waiting by the shoulder
while they hunt deer in the woods in winter snow.
You’ve paced the blacktop’s edge an hour or so.
The sun’s just halfway up. It’s getting colder.
Their orange jackets flash between the pines.
Beagles are on the scent to flush the buck
out toward the highway past the pickup truck
where the men will shoot it on the yellow lines.
The morning sky snags in your memory—
stars that glint like mica flecks on the blue
background a quarter moon is showing through,
above the route from Cross to Elloree.
You hear wheels in the distance and you think,
what if a deer comes bounding toward the road?
Just then the car appears like time has slowed:
a Pontiac Firebird slipping on the brink
of the iced bridge that spans Jim Cumbee’s creek,
its chainless tires chewing the roadside gravel.
A tree snaps like a judge slamming a gavel
and you can see the skid marks where they streak
maybe ten feet away from where you stand,
the tire tracks aiming toward the distant trees
and the car flipped over, leaking antifreeze.
Out of the windshield juts a woman’s hand.
You scramble closer to the wreck and see
she’s still as starlight. Pinned there. She can’t move.
Somewhere a gear is clicking in its groove.
The radio plays Tom Petty’s “Refugee.”
You listen for her breath, but it gets slower.
The way the glass-chips in the snow are lit
seems beautiful, a fact you don’t admit.
It’s dark inside. You can’t tell if you know her.
And that’s when it capers into the road. The deer.
It stands there a minute, startled. Then it runs
before the men come shouting with their guns.
Just how long you stand watching isn’t clear.
Years from now when you recall this morning,
it won’t be a blur of metal you think of first,
how the Firebird veered off the road, then burst
into the scrim of pine trees without warning,
not the cold, or what song the radio had on—
it won’t even be the dead girl they pulled out
of a strew of glass. No. You’ll think about
the deer. How it glanced up at you. And was gone.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 1, on page 30
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