How many minutes does it take a gut-shot
buck to helter-skelter through scree
and lose the hunter? How many days
for turkey vultures to convert death
into gliding? How many years
till some schlub hiker like me stumbles
upon the remains? There it lay—
a tableau in bleached bone, flight
and collapse converted into sleep.
Hooves and vertebrae, laddered ribs:
I touched till I felt time chewing me
from the inside, as it must have chewed
the deer. I lay down and woke an hour
later to smoke—fire across the lake,
the afternoon turned apocalyptic by haze.
I plucked sage, flicked an ant from my shoe,
swallowed ashy air, glassed the slow
syntax of scrub oak giving way
to power lines and cul-de-sacs till I found
my house, relic of some former life.
I rose to my feet then, placed my boot
on that scoured skull and wrenched.
One antler cracked free, then the next.
Picking my way down, I felt
like a messenger who knows not
what chirring truth he has tasted,
what answers hang from his antlered
hands. Wavery with sun, my house
looked like an ark floating away
before I could bow my head and climb on.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.