May 1, 2015

Sylvia McCullough: Three Poems, "The Deer"

I am recently retired to the Traverse City area after an eclectic career of part time teaching, antiques dealing, and volunteering with the homeless in Phoenix, Arizona.  I have been married to a wonderful man for the past thirty-seven years, am an avid gardener, amateur photographer, great cook, and reader and writer of poetry. 


What woman does not recognize the deer?
They come, single file now along the worn path,
like cows drawn home at milking time.

Near the feeding ground, they fan out,
swirling, all stick legged, sneer faced,
ears flattened, raised on hind legs,

like female gang members, coming down
hard on smaller, weaker subordinates.
They gobble, grab, and gulp mouthfuls of corn.

The yearlings still follow their mothers,
bulging now with unborn fawns,
only two months from spring foaling.

Now, with winter nearing it’s end,
from snow filled swamp, cedars browsed
beyond reach, their fear tempered by driving hunger,

they “yard up” to the hearths of humankind.

Which one of us has not done the same?
Fed from the enemy’s plate. 
Slept in his bed to safeguard food

and shelter for our children. 
Fought for position and status.
Begged in welfare lines.

Endured blows from the aggressor,
with nowhere to turn,
bowed in humiliating submission. 

What woman does not recognize the deer?


For my grandmother,
Martha Otillia Preuss Liske (1910-1985)
Blinding light, your voice calling
my name from within
   a dark rectangular shape.
           You stood inside the shaded porch,
your box camera in hand
capturing, imprinting,
that small child you loved,
in the brightness of day.
as you are from me now,
returned again beyond that darkened door,
I stand alone in the light,
calling your name.


I see through my window past
snow covered pines into a winter
my father was self-employed.
He and my mother, down in the swamp
cutting cedar pulp for the mill in town.

“It was a shame,” my mother sighed,
“your Dad drank up all the money.”
Drunk, or on his way to getting drunk,
unemployed or marginally employed,
he blew any good job he managed to get.

Hung over, he drank his cup of shame,
smoking a Pall Mall held cocked,
coquettish, trembling over crossed legs,
ankle swaying and curled like a girls,
hiding his shame even from himself.

Holding his cup on his knee,
he blew smoke rings to amuse us.
“Think maybe I'll go see Ed about
that part for the car,” he mumbled,
voice soft, dumbed with shame.

He'd come home after the bar closed
words slurred, laughing, barely erect, an alien
changeling from another world, shame numbed
for the moment  in Pabst Blue Ribbon
and Jim Beam, passing out on the couch.

Desperate with shame, my mother gathered
his discarded beer bottles from around
the yard and barns, several bushel baskets,
a confrontation met with rage and broken glass,
shame smashed against the wall behind which I slept.

Two months after I last saw him, my father
died of kidney failure and cirrhosis.  He was
sixty-three years old, lived in a rented shack,
with only his clothes and his last Social Security
check to his name.  It was a real shame.

~Sylvia McCullough

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