This poem is about an event that happened a couple years ago, one I’ve been trying to understand. What does it mean? That chance events mark a place where futures diverge? Something about the nature of tragedy? How responsibility is real, but whose edges are sometimes not clear?
Deer in the Headlights
Returning from a friend’s house late at night,
the car’s headlights are needles
that poke a hole in the darkness.
The motor’s hum. A blur of dark trees
in the side windows. The crackle of
gravel under the tires.
Cresting the hill, I head down
into the valley, the road narrows
and winds. Around a curve
my headlights suddenly
pin a shape to the road. I crunch
to a stop. A fawn stands still.
Ears erect, eyes open, unblinking.
Frozen in the light.
Long seconds pass.
It begins to move.
And then I notice:
with front legs straining,
she drags her useless
hind quarters behind, crushed
by a car like mine that
crested the hill, late at night,
to collide with her first journey
into the night.
She makes her way slowly across
the pool of light, like
an actor on stage, and
disappears into the dark ditch.
I open the car door and
step onto the road —
out the door and under the silent stars,
into the verdant smell of May.
– Steve Peterson