Of Black Ice and Deer
for Brenda Ryan
I wanted to write you a poem
about black ice and deer,
about the minimal differences
of faces and how those differences
make all the difference. But then I thought
of something you said,
or maybe it’s something I heard that you said:
Even when the shit hits the fan,
there’ll be a stack of compositions
awaiting you in your office, desiring
a read, a note, a grade—a little attention.
That’s like us, sometimes: monstered by minimal
desire. Take a peek. Say something, once.
I watched a bad movie while eating toast
and hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with garam masala;
a prostitute with a heart of zirconium told a client,
“Men fall in love with their eyes. Women with their ears.”
I wonder about those women who fall
by degrees, I’ve heard, and by letter,
their locked-away prisoner penpals wooing
the old-old-fashioned way, having never touched
a knuckle or a collarbone. I wonder about falling
by personal history, by prose. By learning the law
together, by leaving
voicemails for the Innocence Project.
Or by a landscape
done in oils. I know
I could never get sweet
on a watercolorist
I’d neither seen nor heard.
Maybe a sculptor? Sure, why not. The garam masala is a dodge,
but it’s also, like what I’ve said about that watercolorist,
a sign of pretension. My snobbery knows itself,
which is why I’ve thought today for more than a minute
about the slim pickings of Holt County and everywhere,
really. Which is something that someone told me
you may have said.
We’re aware of black ice—or we’ve been told.
We’ve heard the story. We’re aware of the road.
We drive on the road. We know what it is to drive.
Everyone has a story of a deer, and the time, and the time, and the time.
We’re aware. We know the season.
Every arching possibility, every scripted danger. Sometimes,
maybe, we get distracted to the thrill. Maybe
it’s like that kid
who keeps calling,
in the third grade.
He really, really, really wants you
to come over and play
with his monster.
And we go. Sometimes we go.
To see. To confront a face,
made of all the same parts
as the other faces.
Even toddlers can point them out.
I won’t be naming them in our language.
I won’t be naming them in Latin—
because of the snobbery.
Same stuff, same goddamned stuff.
Which is strange. Which is monstrous strange.
Because there are faces we can’t see.
And some we won’t.
And some we can’t stop seeing.
And some that we only know in dreams.
And some that need us to close our eyes.
And some that ask us to open them.
You’d think we’d be floating all the time,
on the waffling clouds of all of this
and the wonder
of all these differences,
these tiny insignificant differences,
so small, so indescribable, really—
and how much they squeeze us in the brain.
You’d think we’d be floating.
You’d think we’d all be learning to float away.