Caleb Curtiss

Elegy for L

My part in your passing was simple.
I held your hand and we all
talked for a while: with you, about you, without you, and then,

as if by way of a miracle,
with you again as you nodded in and out. Not so different
from the fish I caught

the same day the nice folks at hospice
moved you from your home
and into their headquarters, right across the street

from the detention center, where they keep
the kind of kids who are like the kind of kids
we were.

It was a sunfish, the kind you caught
when you were still a boy and your uncle, my grandfather,
would take you fishing, parlaying wet

kernels of yellow corn from a can in exchange for a chance
to pull from the water and into the boat
some glimmering secret to kill and flay

or throw back and forget. We share what we inherit,
one way or another. Your bad eye, the one they took
when found full of cancer,

stayed open while you rested, glassy and new. The rest of you
already fading like the wake
of a boat.

I can't bear to think about
what it was like for you: the morphine, the slipping and sudden traction,
then the slipping away.

The fear that comes in feeling your being
or the sudden catch of that end like the barbed tip of a hook

as it passes through cartilage.



Dead Doe

Those who saw remember hearing him first:
A light clap of hooves on the street-pavers like rounds
From a cap gun, or the sound a stone will make
When thrown at another much larger stone.
The night before there was a heavy rain that sat
In the fields until dawn when it rose a heavy
Fog. He must have been confused, turned around
By the fog, or perhaps he came to us
By way of the fog, the long heavy rain
From the night before hanging over us
Like a specter, a visitor as the buck
Had been a visitor. Those who saw him told
Of an enormous crown of horns that stood
Over him, others of his dark eyes like onyx
Spheres set deep in his narrow head like marbles
Pressed into the dirt by a boot. The fog
Kept our doors closed and so it was a small group
Of men who gathered holding long guns, adorned
In heavy garments used to stalk in the fields,
Near the lakes, in the woods that spread into
The distance, past the edge of town. The echoes
Of men hushed through the streets, ears tuned for the clap
Of hooves on pavement as we sat at our windows,
Hushed in the shuffle of their long slow steps.
Up the street, past the bank, past the school, past
The fueling station, all closed for the fog
Which grew so thick the men couldn’t see what lay
In their path and so began to move as one.
It went on like this for some time, a fruitless
And boring job, but soon became much easier
Work than any of them could have imagined:
The buck not a buck at all but the small, heaving
Body of a doe, its scent already deep
Inside the minds of the dogs: loam and wet
Leather, clotting blood, a hint of wood smoke.
The dogs had to be heeled, their looped chains grinding
Deep into the thick fur of their necks.
Bemused, the men stepped forth to look at her—
A body at rest at the edge of a field, small
And new to winter, trembling with eyes closed
Like the closed eyes of a small child in deep sleep
—And softened at the sight of her: fur-covered
Flesh coiled over adolescent bone. One man
Began to fashion for her a bridle made
From the length of rope he brought for the buck.
Another leaned down to slide the knotted line
Into her quivering mouth while the others
Nodded, watching her rise as a marionette
Will rise once its curtain is drawn. As she stood,
So stood the fog—so stood the dogs, seeing in her
What the men had missed; missed or ignored: the doe's
Eyes set deep and dark in her head. Then, the bridle
Was on the ground and the doe was in the field,
Running as she had first been expected to run.
The men were pleased to see her in this way:
A figure in motion behind a layer
Of thickening fog that rose in the field,
Kept rising like steam from a kettle; the mud
From the field, black, and heavy, slowed her gait
Like the thick mud of a dream: her path at once
Foreseeable to the men who watched her
For a moment, cold in her uneven grace:
The tumbling sight of her bony frame
Unfolding in front of them as one, then
Another steadied his aim. She lay there
All night, long after the men turned back, her absence
Rising from the surface of the earth like smoke
As the men, each with their families, ate and washed
And turned, all night, turning back, just as echoes
From the day will find purchase in our dreams.



Caleb Curtiss is the author of A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. His poetry, essays, and criticism have previously appeared in journals including The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Redivider, Ninth Letter, Poetry International, DIAGRAM, Green Mountains Review, Fugue, and Passages North.