Saturday, July 19, 2008

Traveling Through the Dark

Here’s a nice and thoughtful one for today. Don’t know why I wanted to post it but I woke up this morning with it on my mind after reading it last night, so I guess it had the desired effect of the author.

by William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

When I first read this, I was absolutely appalled that the speaker didn’t try to save the unborn fawn. What kind of monster would kill a helpless, tiny baby deer? But, as usually happens, practicality swept over me and I realized that the did the right thing, as the deer would have most likely been killed on the road just like it’s mother. But just the fact that I’m still thinking about this poem after a full and long night’s sleep tells that it’s quite powerful.

On a possibly unrelated sidebar, I’ve never read a William Stafford poem before but I do have a history with him (maybe). I spent five great years at Monmouth University (four for me, and one for my wife), and one of the buildings there was named after him (or someone else with his name). It occurs to me now that I’m quite lazy for having gone to that school for so long and never actually finding out exactly who the person whose name is on the building was. That’s somewhat shameful, especially finding out that it was a poet’s name, and I pride myself on the fact that I know poetry. I guess I’m lazier and less informed than I thought.

I’ll probably sleep fine tonight.

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