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Erin Elizabeth Smith

The Deer

The deer have been in the garden again
clipping the heart-shaped leaves of the sweet
potatoes, popping off each tomato
before it bleeds. After the pink sky,
the voracious night descends,
where the raccoons pilfer the composted
artichoke, lick clean the alabaster oyster
shells and run, fat and fearful, across the wood
slats of my deck.  It's hard
not to be angry at their hunger
for the things I savor.  The green I've grown
from startled seed, the hoof prints
in the earth I cultivated as one might
a room for children – the little lullabies
of pinched weed and water.  I watch
for the deer with their flashlight eyes
to saunter across the lawn
into my spread of summer
flowers that will blossom into squash,
beans, the heat red of pepper,
and think of my mother's garden,
filled up with inedible gourds,
all striped like cartoon prison pajamas.
That one season of fruiting,
where she let each rot on the vine,
a decoration of perfect, hard rinds
strung to the chain-link
like last year's Christmas lights.
So much like the apple tree
she dug up from our step-father's lawn
two months after we left.
Each spring it would give such small
fruit, and I would bite through
that puckering skin to taste what she'd stolen
for us.  Not at all like the muscadines
I horded in the woods across the street,
wild and sweet like the promise
of growing up, where the world
might have skin too tough to gnaw,
but you could learn to pop
the slippery juice through.  To spit the seeds.
I was young then, before I understood
my own history of poverty
and hate, before I could remember
how cold and hard a man's belt buckle
felt on the skin, the way a voice can discolor
old photographs.  Before the night I saw my mother
huddled on the floor, my step-father's hand,
the same one she had watched him take to me,
raised like a slow-mo sword in a movie. 
The night I ran from both of them
into the woods, where the dirt and pine
hummed with spindly mosquitos.  A time
when I thought deer emerging
from the sudden dark was something
of ecstasy and wonder.


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