A Poem By Richard Siken

The Stag and the Quiver

1

Once there was a deer called stag. A white breasted, a many pointed. He refused to still when he halted, the hooves in his mind were always lifted. Everything comes close, the branches slide. In a clearing made of cleavings, stag sees another stag. They watch each other, they share no story. I will not cross you and you must move on. There is nothing else. It reminds me of some tale, stay with me to remember, it reminds me of where I was going without you.

2

The hunter sinks his arrows into the trees and then paints the targets around them. The trees imagine they are deer. The deer imagine they are safe. The arrows: they have no imagination.

All night the wind blows through the trees. It makes a sound.

The hunter’s son watches the hunter. The hunter paints more rings on his glasses. Everything is a target, says the hunter. No matter where you look. The hunter’s son says nothing, and closes his eyes.

3

The hunter’s son watches the stag.

Clench is a hand word. His hand is clenched. Door with a bad hinge, it wouldn’t open. Do not let go of the arrow, let it slip through your fingers as you relax your grip. This is good advice. He couldn’t do it. There is no way to get to the future from here.

The key to archery is sustained attention. An arrow is a stick with feathers, an extension of the mind. Men and their thoughts, their quivers and their arrows: it helps to see how these things move, and where they land.

The stag watches the hunter’s son.

4

This is a story of loops, at least one. I stepped off the loop. I spent time listening, testing realms. I snapped a twig in my head and struck out. You know what it’s like to be alone: gimlets and vermicide. You know what it’s like to be alive, so forgiveness.

All night the trees stand silent in the dark, not touching.

I put on the deer suit. I turned my ears in all directions. I’ll live alone or in between. This is the testimony of the deer: solitude, the long corridors, love from a distance. You asked me once, What are we made of? Well, these are the things we’re made of. One house, two house. The road goes away from here.





Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, a Lambda Literary Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book, War of the Foxes, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2015.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.