“The buck is here with his seven does.”
He tells me this, using his quiet voice. I imagine him, leaning against the thick cottonwood trunk in his mother’s yard, one hand in his coat pocket, the other holding a cell phone to his ear. Breath-marks steaming when he exhales. The light over the kitchen sink casts a yellow smudge against the thick frost on the window. Inside, his mother is sleeping. He’s come back to take care of her since she slipped and fell last month.
In the grove of pine trees twenty feet from the back door, the deer are finding breakfast in the exposed patches of last summer’s grass mixed with this morning’s issue of snow.
“Bucks are different than the does.”
He tells me what we both already know. I turn over in bed, pull the comforter over my head and listen to his narration. The buck stares at him, glances at his women, stares back at him again. The does nibble on the old grass, obediently. That’s Bimbo, closest to Snow Buck. And over against the lilac hedge is Bashful. Each time the buck brings his does by, one more doe is named.
The silence between where he stands and where I lie half-asleep is filling with the stir of sunrise: bird chirps, dog barks, a neighbor warming up his car. Snow crunches underfoot — he’s moving slowly toward the hummingbird feeder. The one we’d hung in our own back yard, once upon a time. I hear a hint of labored breathing when he kneels in the snow. In his best Mutual-of-Omaha-Wild-Kingdom voice, he announces in a barely audible whisper that he plans to extend his phone through the branches of the chokecherry bush. If we are both very quiet, I’ll be able to hear the doe he wants to name Dancer eat.
But all is not to be. The doe starles and bolts. Commotion ensues. I hear rustling static, more snow-crunching and labored breathing. And then a round of quiet settles and spreads out.
Probably he dropped the phone in the snow. I listen for him to find me, for the sound of his approach. Wallflower, he says to himself as he retrieves the phone, not knowing if I’m still there.
The sounds of sunrise once included the sounds of heading off to school. Sleepy breakfast, lunch money transferred from my pocket into hers, homework slipped inside her backpack, and then we’d rush outside. Back then it was customary to share our driveway and front walk with a herd of antelope, wintering along the vast expanse of space between our house and the golf course on the edge of town. We never left the house without first checking to see if our leaving would startle them.
By the time we reached the corner of Wicks and Saint Andrews, the windows would be defrosted and we’d have agreed on a radio station. Came the day when she turned seven, we almost hit a deer as it skittered across the road directly in front of us.
“That’s a deer, isn’t it, Mama.” She calmly pointed with her red mittens.
I thought about all the road trips we had shared over the years and how we had tried to teach her a cow was not a horse, and a horse was not a cow. In Montana, roadkill alongside the highway is common. As we would count horses in the fields: horse horse cow, we could count the roadkill. Deer, deer, deer, deer. Deer.
The little girl, who’d remain confused about horses turned to me, her feet not touching the floorboards, the seatbelt-restraint tight across her chest. “Antelope wait before crossing the road. Deer get too anxious.”
You are stillness. I am roam.
something something twenty feet below
Remember this– I run when I am lost.
This was on my mind yesterday morning while driving to work. My street was ice, the next street — deep ruts, steep hill. The backroad into town dips around and down into the river bottom. Up ahead, a solitary deer skittered across the road, caught between two oncoming cars. I held my breath. She was akimbo. I could feel her panic in the way she rushed. She runs, too, whenever she is lost.
Is panic the right word? Later in the day, I asked the most intelligent man I know. What is it that makes us anxious? Why is it some of us run?
As he spoke, I chose a seat that offered a fine view of his profile, one of his best sides. He told me about the Heisenberg Principle: the very act of observing something might change its behavior. We can’t know for sure why the deer runs, why the antelope stops and waits. When we don’t know our place, we waver with indecision: should we run and skitter or should we stay and stop?
“Uncertainty,” he offered as a reason for the doe’s run and for the reason behind my poem, “It’s life at a subatomic level.”