Yes, there’s a deer in this poem
bending his antler-crowned head
to nibble scattered corn seed, a disaster
of blood not yet pulled from the body
like a rib
from a sacrament of smoked holy
heaped upon black vinyl table
altar on the screened porch, beyond which
mosquitos jostle & eager for blood
not yet spilled from our bodies, this shared
lineage, what knots us here with heads bent
to taste cobbed corn & pray. How we
mutter soft & mispronounce
words we’ve never heard said aloud,
sparking from sentences like grace notes,
music wrenched from a rust-gnawed engine.

Yes, I’m also in this poem, watching the deer
from beyond the scope latched to the rifle
that will not fire the bullet
that will pull from the body
blood. Instead, a penance
of stilled hand. I do not pull the trigger
& still later, when the deer is flayed, placed
on a paper plate, I kiss the ribs
in ritual. Is this what we mean when we say love,
the blood we share in fellowship?
The sacrifice we burn, the bones
we bury in the dirt among the magnolias.
~ ~ ~

Derek Berry, author of the novel Heathens & Liars of Lickskillet County (2016) and poetry chapbook Skinny Dipping with Strangers (2013), lives in Aiken, South Carolina. They are the co-founder of literary non-profit The Unspoken Word. They are the recipient of the 2018 KAKALAK Poetry Prize. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in BOAAT Journal, Pidgeonholes, Gigantic Sequins, Rabid Oak, and elsewhere.