Deer in the Headlights

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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

Published by

Steve Peterson

I teach fifth grade in Iowa.

2 thoughts on “Deer in the Headlights”

    1. I’m so sorry about the ending to this poem. I wish it was different. Yet that ending was what felt important to try to find words for.

      There was something about the tragedy of it, the way she continued on into the darkness and I got to see the stars and smell the beginnings of summer and get back in my car that seemed so unfair. And commonplace.

      I’m struck by this sometimes: no one knows another’s tragedy, really, though sometimes we see it pass before our eyes.

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