How the Deer Were Lost

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In the white months they wandered
seeking what scant foliage
lay scattered under snow or
tearing their soft lips against the low tree trunks
to get at the bitter layer beneath the bark.
Blizzard-driven or blind on a starless night
they made their way out onto the lake ice
where they lost the scent of shore.
For some there was a great Crack!
& a quick thrashing panic
as the lake just opened up & took them
whole in its mouth.
Others starved slowly,
scratching at the snow crust
looking for roots and leaves
below the drifts, wondering
at the barren nature of this place.
Shelterless, & weak with cold & hunger
they lay down at last to die.
Their shivers stopping long before the
                                       the sun rose.


How They Were Found

Spring & they wash in,
come to rest in the shallow water
waves slapping the halves
of their pale, open & rotting bellies
back & forth,

Winter was slow for them
frozen, lying on wide plains of ice.
On clear nights I could see them in my dreams.
Strong winds blew them up & down the lake
until their fur took root in cracks
& they held to the ice, secure
waiting out the thaw.

When the ice breaks up
shoves its way up the shoreline,
I wade in the new water
relearning the beaches
barefoot, tracing the waterline.

There were three that year—
white & torn, fanning flesh & skin in the current.
I watched them inch towards the sand
wading close as I dared.
I couldn't understand the silence
of bodies below water
lacking the stench, blood, and flies
that mark kills left to melt into soil.

As the wind & sand cleaned them
I collected the bones.
Placed them on an abandoned boat
to bleach & dry.
I wanted to rebuild the deer,
stringing bones tight onto wire
to chime against each other in the wind.
I wanted to reconnect their mechanism,
revel in the inherent graceful motion
of these animals, its measure most visible
beneath muscle & sinew, tendon & hide.
Under the hide I felt a hidden tension
that wanted to be visible, revealed.

But in the rains, they returned to the water
or were stolen by raccoons & dogs.
Only a few are left now;
artifacts like saint’s relics,
souvenirs of a vision passed on after passing on,
through this world and into the next:
a skull I keep in my rafters
the first I found with antlers,
a scapula & several ribs on the windowsill,
a femur I carved as a handle to hold a blade.
The rest lay scattered in their own array.

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John T. Unger poet

I'm best known as an artist and designer. Relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.

Before becoming a visual artist, I spent 15 years as a poet. I studied poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, Stone Circle and on the streets. I performed my work for years at Stone Circle, solo shows, poetry readings, and at Lollapalooza in 1996.

I still write poems, but only if I can make them fit the constraints ofTwitter.

Mobile: 231.584.2710 (9 to 5 PST only) | Email me

Art IS my day job

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