We called them ‘the woods’ but truth be told they were a city forest preserve, a swath of controlled growth between highways—anemic oaks and dun evergreens, a dry creek bed thick with leaf rot, brambles cloaked in a chiaroscuro of exhaust and barbecue smoke. The ‘wildlife’ was teenagers out past dark—rebels armed with cigarettes—and the rest of that temperate forest was tame. But at the end of fall, when November caught in your throat like a bone, every now and again it would happen: A deer would lose his way and wander, wide-eyed, from his cultivated maze of bike trails and foot paths to our jungle of lawn mowers and razor-sharp rakes, our gates and fences and domestic beasts. His ears would prick up and he’d stop, frozen, seized by the din of our talk shows, our vacuums and reality programming. He’d stand there, his thin legs locked like deadbolts, and he’d stare—past danger, blindly transfixed on some vanishing point—like a child who thinks that if she covers her eyes, no one will be able to see her and she’ll be safe. But we who looked on knew this truth: The danger was close. You had to keep your eyes on the immediate world, its intimate threats. We didn’t know much, but we knew you had to keep moving.
And yet, when we’d catch sight of one—the stunned statue of a deer amongst our withered perennials—we would always stop to watch him. And though we knew he couldn’t hear us through our weather-proofed windows, still we wouldn’t speak or even breathe—paralyzed by his terrified and unflinching beauty.
Poem by Claire Van Winkle.
Claire Van Winkle received her BA at New York University and completed her MFA at Queens College, where she studied poetry writing and literary translation. Claire currently teaches grammar, composition, creative writing, and literature at CUNY and SUNY. She is the founder of the Rockaway Writers’ Workshop. She also runs writing therapy groups at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Claire’s poetry appears in publications including the American Journal of Poetry, Poor Yorick, No Dear, The Thieving Magpie, Three Line Poetry, Sixfold, and anthologies by Rogue Scholars and Black Lawrence Press. Her literary essays and translation reviews have been featured in Belle Ombre, 3 Percent, and Prometheus Dreaming. Her poems will also appear in Oddville Press’s forthcoming winter publication. Claire has been the recipient of several honors including the inaugural Queens College Foundation Scholarship for Poetry Writing and Literary Translation, an American Literary Translators Association Travel Fellowship, an American Academy of Poets Award, the Mary M. Fay Poetry Award, and the Lenore Lipstein Memorial Prize for Formal Poetry.