Jennifer K. Sweeney

(1973 / Tolland / United States)

Setting The Table For The Deer

Under the ponderosa pine, a family
of deer gathered in late autumn,
chewing on chucked corncobs from August dinners
or our windfall of mealy tree-apples.
Some snowy nights dark with solstice
they'd rush the yard kicking up drifts
under the spun sky
as if beauty had finally sprung a lock
on the reserve midwinter requires.
My father wanted to fell the pine,
its hulking shadow dwarfing the porch,
but was persuaded to let it die
in its own time.
My sisters and I are all grown,
our swing-set hung with bird feeders
and the picnic table, migrated
to the woods' edge.
Maybe because the neighborhood has emptied
of children and hammers no longer
pound in the distance,
a new season of deer has returned
and just before my parents dine
at the tidy hour of 5:30,
they carry heaped trays out back, like demigods
lay a spread of alfalfa, oats, clover
along the table's weathered periphery
and the deer emerge in fives and tens,
bend their necks to the splintered planks
where platters of hot dogs and citronella candles
had once been, to eat their evening meal,
not questioning its arrival or presentation,
each with a measured plot of molasses and grain,
the last cinders of dusk falling into place
while inside the house, my father draws
the struck match to the candlewicks,
my mother setting the table for two.

Submitted: Monday, August 25, 2014

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