The deer—neck not birch trunk, eyes
not leaf or shadow, comes clear
from nowhere at the eye's edge.
The woman's legs stop. Her mind
lags, then flashes, "Deer at edge
of the woods." The deer's eyes, black
and fragile, stare back and stop
her breathing. The breeze drops. Light
shines every leaf. She enters
that other world, her feet stone
still on the path. The deer stands
pat and takes her in. Antlered,
static as an animal—
not a statue, photograph,
any substitute—can be
because it wants to, it includes
her in the world it watches.
She notes its coat, thick, stiff
like straw, with a straw-like shine.
There, where the ribs are, she sees
no rise or fall of breathing.
She breathes, shyly, attempting
the etiquette of quiet.
She goes over what she knows
of antlers, those little trees
of bone, grown for a season
and shed like leaves. The deer's head,
she thinks, is hieroglyphic,
eyes of wet ink, unblinking.
No golden links clasp the neck—
no deer of Arthur's this, sent
as a sign. The woman finds
and fingers these few deer-thoughts
in her mind. But she's no match
for its stasis, she hasn't
the tact. Tableau, entrancement—
but what's the second panel
of the tapestry? She moves,
not back, discreetly, as one
would leave a king, but forward,
to have it done. To free (or,
less likely, fall on one knee,
petitioning). The deer moves,
smooth as a fish, is gone. Green
edges waver and reknit.
The light shifts. The woman, two-
legged still, walks on. "I saw
a deer," she will say, pouring
coffee. Not "I was." "I saw."