Poetry Club, day 18

Earlier this week my current friend and former editor Dayna Avery sent me to listen to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast, What Should I Read Next? The latest episode, “What to read if Google wrecked your brain,” is about poetry. She interviews a poet named Dave Harrity, and he mentioned this poem by William Stafford, which at one point was in The Joy of Poetry. 
We discussed the poem in our writer’s group one time, which led to a discussion of Deer Encounters. (Welcome to the Texas Hill Country!) Most of ours were funny. This one is not, but it stuck with each of us.
Traveling through the Dark
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.
~William Stafford


Your turn.


  1. The word ‘swerve’ stands out to me as if formatted in bold. There’s his prediction in line 4 of what one may mean – more death – and in the end, his decision fulfills it. But here stands a man needing to decide what to do, feeling the weight of a great cloud of witnesses, and no perfect options exist. What I especially like about this poem is that I don’t need a PhD to understand the story. It’s a concrete anecdote. And yet, I can remove the deer and lay any number of other situations/choices on that road. The tension and pressure that man is under is completely real to me.

    As for the line “her fawn lay there waiting,” I almost couldn’t keep reading after that.

    This is a heavy poem, but a very good one nonetheless.

    • Marilyn, the word “swerve” is what stood out to me as well. I like what you said about removing the deer–I think a good poem does that, invites you to remove its image and lay in your own. And no, it doesn’t take a PhD to understand.