William C. Olsen

The Afterlife of Deer

Anything but unsurprising is

a habit deer have
What they are to me until they happen

in snow/leaf/wind
sun/rain/moon
is nothing if not always serendipitous

In my globe of space and time
they change place with one another That
is what memory is

That is why we die
interchangeable
shadows of scud-clouds scudded across winter’s

blade-scraped ice
heaven is the same
for them

frozen pond
empty swing sets
heaven


unfortunate birth
uncontrollable circumstance
heaven

they dream of corn
our underworld
this ice pond

Heaven’s roof we walk gingerly upon
or its ceiling cracks
Death is beneath us

Heaven is beneath us
Earth is beneath us
Joy is beneath us Contempt

is only human


We are told not to feed
Whatever record left behind
only yesterday

The nuanced tilt of the two halves
of the hoof prints
whatever thought them up

not all that mindful
The oaks start bearing
pea-sized acorns

cut down on predators
there is no other choice but life and more life
or less

and let the animals starve
and not to feed
just watch That was what our life was


Their tracks get all mixed up for us
Their silence is
unheard of

a time before paradise or loss
that calm of theirs good sense
Best to go unseen

How have their carcasses been disposed
You can’t see hear
you can’t even smell

such sour silence


Did I tell you about three of them
the family I talked to
as to a pet or a child

baby talk what I said depending
so little on them
surprise didn’t speak a word it washed its hands

Their very appearance is a cliff
I walk off
and fall to earth and live to tell Their Story

My memory
is a thief and my imagination
an undertaker

some family
unmoved
surprised


Harvest midnight
Carcass strung up on a basketball hoop
is still twirling

Harvest bleeds
gyres
on driveway
the sun shining down Where you are
they are
never to be lost or found

no ghost with pen can put to speech or song
one who looked up at me
from the golf course

through the windshield of my moving car
made eye contact and held it
and looked and looked

Memory drove away


sight of tongue
sleight of eyes
They disappear only to reappear

key deer all trust and littleness
shying almost
right up to us

in a dream they showed up dark green
bleeding sap
from the teeth of a backhoe

And did I tell you about the
one just
outside

I was the guy
whose office window that one walked by
like I wasn’t there

indifferent if from many singled out
one of those heavenly days
beautiful enough to die

Deer grazing up in the clouds
able to bear
them

Look up there
Up there
are spring flowers and overgrazing and harvest

Not so near nor so far
No ghost pen can put to tune or speech
wind both fierce and light

Grazing on snow falling upwards
for all I know
All I know

hurts and the afterlife
of a world of hurt
lets me near them


Above that you are able
to escape that you are
or may be able to bear

the one who walked out of the scrub
across beach front right
up to lake was no longer a cherub with antlers

and bent down as if
it were itself an if
and lowered a head as an if

and drank from the if-ebb
It might have been a ghost
Alive still or probably not

death doesn’t have a prayer

Green Flash
(September 15, 2010)
As the sun sets it dims to a stage-light brightness you can gawk at, but the crinkled light on crinkled lake is the greater miracle. With such slick watercolor you actually feel kinship. The orange of sunset on water is a deluge of fire. The sun could be a sphere of flesh. Then the glimpse I’d waited many dusks out for. Contingencies: clean air, mirage, refraction. Just so. Reaching the observer without being shredded or scattered. It isn’t much more than the afterimage would be if the gaze at a green flame turns were suddenly to turn to a white wall, or if we simply closed our eyes. Which is to say this green flash isn’t how dusk works at all. Dusk dilates the most open eyes.  What this one instant of a day hospitable to memory amounts to is a miniscule crescent on a pinhead. You don’t have to strain to see it, but it isn’t going to lead to an expansive consciousness. The sun sets first, then its jeweled special effect is something you know you are seeing for the first time and the last time. As a surprise. As a goodbye. And such a precious goodbye has to happen within the instant before the disappearance that sponsors the goodbye. That’s it. The sun having set, every stone sets, every pebble, the narrow beach, verge milkweed, west facing house sides, straggler skateboard kids high fiving and reaching above their heads to heaven to do so, a tortoise ride on springs, the rusting space rocket with the rusting spiral staircase, the parking spaces where cars were, empty green benches, any memory of who was sitting on them, even the absences that have been invented out of some desire that life be otherwise.

William Olsen‘s most recent collection of poetry is Sand Theory (Northwestern, 2011). He teaches at Vermont College and Western Michigan University. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.