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Poetry

Night before last I hit a deer as I sped
meteor-like down a dark road—the thud
of meeting bone beneath flesh. Last night
it was a man, only
he made no sound flying
from the car’s bumper into blackness. Maybe
it wasn’t me, but that shadowy figure
behind the wheel, with me in the death seat. Some

have a built-in
mechanism to believe the best no matter
how bad it gets. I spend my daylight hours
at a cancer center shuffling
patient folders from the “alive”
drawers of my file cabinet
to the “dead” ones, and asking
of people who have months to live: How
are you doing since your diagnosis? Most
answer as if they’re any
healthy guy: Okay, voice
a bit too high or Oh, good and bad. It’s my
job to offer spiritual counseling
and assess their ability to benefit.
When I ask them, Have you ever
had an experience that seemed
spooky or hard to understand? Some say,
Yeah, this cancer. They’re not

joking. The assumption: if they’re crazy,
we can’t help. Truth is we can’t help anyway—or
at least not the way they want. When I enter
the exam room, they’re usually expecting
vaccines, experimental
drugs—real hope. God’s
a disappointment. When I met
a twenty-year-old, he’d been
waiting tables, saving for college, dark
hair falling across his forehead the day
he learned his headaches mean
he’ll be in my dead drawer before the end
of summer. He stared at me like a fish
in a tank, his one blue eye already
bulging from its socket. I left

work late, looked too long
at a clot of homies on a corner without
seeing them or the deal they made until
one’s tough-ass snarl crossed the street
toward me and smacked
a heavy palm on the hood. Before that
day, I’d have stepped on it, glad
to escape, but I stared
him down: Don’t start
with me tonight, you little
shit. You can’t
scare me. I’ve opened

exam room doors to relatives
passed out on the linoleum and guys
joking about a pity fuck. I’ve listened
to husbands tell the story of how they met and waited
long minutes as mothers choked on grief. I’ve learned
to read their CT scans, masses
exploding on dark ground. I keep

running into bodies. Deer
in the headlights of a prognosis. Men
and women who moments before were headed
on down the road, and now
they’re flying into darkness. Only
I didn’t do it. I’m just a passenger
of the shadowy figure, and God’s
a big-handed homeboy with attitude.


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