Monday, November 17, 2008

Traveling Through the Dark

This is my last full week of commuting, and so my chances of hitting a deer will go down. Last week I passed one that was "not dead yet," to use the phrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and Spamalot), but a police cruiser was parked on the shoulder, so I drove on by, unlike the speaker in the William Stafford poem who has to get the carcass off the road by himself. I've never yet hit one myself, but twice daily I see them crossing the road in front of my car, and at least twice daily I pass deer carcasses on the side of the road, because Ohio law says that you can't take the body home if you hit a deer. So all that meat lies there, rotting. One carcass near my house that I pass every morning was beheaded early on, and the empty neck faces the roadway.

So when I came across Robert Wrigley's poem The Other World, it crawled into my brain beside the ineradicable image of the beheaded deer carcass:

So here is the old buck
who all winter long
had traveled with the does
and yearlings, with the fawns
just past their spots,
and who had hung back,
walking where the others had walked,
eating what they had left,
and who had struck now and then
a pose against the wind,
against a twig-snap or the way
the light came slinking
among the trees.

Here is the mangled ear
and the twisted, hindering leg.
Here, already bearing him away
among the last drifts of snow
and the nightly hard freezes,
is a line of tiny ants,
making its way from the cave
of the right eye, over the steep
occipital ridge, across the moonscape, shed-horn
medallion and through the valley
of the ear's cloven shadow
to the ground,
where among the staves
of shed needles and the red earthy wine
they carry him
bit by gnawn bit
into another world.

Deer are so common here that I can't grow tulips or lilies or even tomatoes. They're such a common sight that we hardly turn in wonder anymore, even for the little spotted fawns. And yet, until last week, I'd never been offered venison, or seen it on a menu. As Mrs. Lovett would say, it "seems an awful waste."

2 comments:

bookchronicle said...

I used to commute between a particularly deer filled area of Ohio, and it's terrible but we eventually had a bit of a morbid joke about the "exploding deer" -- or what happens when a deer gets hit by a semi-truck. It's a terribly dangerous time of year and be careful driving, glad to hear it will be over soon!

paj said...

Skip the venison. My guess is if you've never had it, you won't like it (and won't know how to cook it), and eating the meat is a more risky business than eating USDA certified stuff (although, probably only a little more risky).
I recently saw a somersaulting deer. It was very cartoon-like in motion, but when the reality of what I'd just witnessed kicked in, my amusement turned to nausea.
We've seen so many carcasses here this fall that we joke NJ deer are particularly suicidal.