The vigil and the vigilance of love.
Sitter to three towheaded, rowdy boys,
the spoiled offspring of the local doctor,
our cousin Maren came north for a summer
and brought us stories of the arid south—
cowpokes and stone survivals.
she summoned two of us to the garage,
a leaning shed with workbench, vise, and tools
stood up between dark studs and logging chains.
A cobwebbed window faced the windy lake
and let in light that squared off on the floor,
and there, quick-breathing on the cracked concrete,
a wounded fawn’s black eyes looked back at us.
Maren told how a neighbor’s dog had caught it,
showed us the wheezing holes made by the teeth,
the spotted fur blood-flecked, the shitty haunch
where it had soiled itself in the lunged attack.
Don’t know where its mama got to, Maren said.
Poor thing’s scared. Don’t touch it. Run get a bowl
When I came back she made a bed
of tarps and grass. Our tomboy cousin had hauled
that wounded fawn down from the neighbor’s field.
Now she nursed it until dusk. Our father
stopped by with his satchel after rounds
and Maren held the fawn so he could listen.
Shaking his head, he sat back on his heels,
removed the stethoscope. He called the vet
who told him there was nothing they could do
but wait it out.
I don’t know, our father said.
Sometimes you shouldn’t interfere with nature.
A mean dog isn’t nature, Maren said.
Well I’m not blaming you for being kind.
Our father brought a blanket from the house,
a baby bottle filled with milk, and he
and Maren shared the vigil for the fawn,
leaving a light on as they might for a child
sick in some farmer’s house.
———————————Three days—a week—
and father backed the car to the garage
to carry out the dead fawn in a tarp
and bury it in some deep part of the woods,
unmarked, and later unremarked upon
with summer over and our cousin gone.
If I tell you that was 1963
you’ll know a world of change befell us next,
but maybe it was ’62. I know
it was before the war divided us
and more than that, before our parents grew
apart like two completely different species,
desert and woods, cactus and thorny vine,
before the nation had its family quarrel,
never quite emerging from it. We boys
had sprouted into trouble of all kinds,
three would-be rebels from a broken home,
and when I next saw Maren, a rancher’s wife
in Colorado, she was all for Jesus,
getting saved and saving every day
in some denomination she invented.
We gave up calling and we never write.
The vigil and the vigilance. Our troubles
happened, but were smaller than a country’s.
My older brother died at twenty-eight—
an accident in mountains. Our mother sobered
up two decades later. Father died
so far removed from his former sanity
I struggle to remember who he was.
The years are a great winnowing of lives,
but we had knelt together by the fawn
and felt the silence intervene like weather.
I’m still there, looking at that dying fawn,
at how a girl’s devotion almost saved it,
wet panic in its eyes, its shivering breath,
its wild heart beating on the concrete floor.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.