“Cervine Occurrence” by R.T. Smith

R.T. Smith


Dressed in leaf green in our blind
we could drink only water. My father

said a sharp buck could smell any other
substance for miles. I was hungry

for biscuits swabbed with butter,
but he promised I’d learn to savor

the hunter’s breakfast that follows
a clean kill—eggs over easy,

sourdough rolls and more
sausage than any wolf could wolf

down. We sat so still we might be ivy
or buckbrush. “Keep your safety

on,” he said. “When the red spot shows,
you are deadly.”

I had slipped my one chilly bullet
into the chamber. Why would I want

to end the life of any sleek creature
who was not my enemy?

But this was man work, and my
school friends already spoke

about the loud crack and blow
to the shoulder, hot blood on the cheek

and the smile photo after.
I had sworn in silence I would refuse

to squeeze that trigger,
but then between my rifle and never

ever the deer stepped and fell.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets


R.T. Smith (Virginia): “Last year, as I was looking at a photo in the local newspaper of a boy and his first deer kill, I thought of my own first hunt, which seemed hallucinogenic, and still does. The older I get, the more I wonder if I learned the lessons about manhood that my elders wanted me to learn, or if I learned others that would disappoint them. I know I wanted to belong, but I did not want to kill that deer, despite the promise of acceptance, breakfast, whatever. I did it then and have done it since, both proud and a little ashamed of being blooded. It’s a paradox that won’t leave me alone, and maybe the title, which is anything but visceral and immediate, and euphemizing the actual shooting at the end, constitute my attempt to insulate the violence.”

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