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Poetry was among the most popular forms of writing to be entered in this year's contest, perhaps because poems—with their brevity and flexibility—can seem the easiest thing to write. That's deceptive, of course: The economy and precision that poetry requires makes it perhaps the greatest writing challenge, one which Carol Brendsel meets in her evocation of an all-too-familiar scene.

 

 

 

 

Leading Up to the Gila Wilderness

By Carol Brendsel

 

Imprinted on the gray skin of road

that is Highway 35 stretch

black rubber tattoos of a long skid,

adobe tire treads embedded with grass,

torn branches of low-hanging juniper

browning like jagged teeth.

What is missing in these waves of silent heat

is the sound of impact:

the dull thud of flesh,

the curse of crushed metal,

breaking glass and mirror.

 

Here in this silence she lies,

her bones a jumble, separated,

licked clean by night scavengers.

The perfection of her unbroken ribs,

a cage for her once-anxious heart,

leans against the trunk.

 

I interrupt this cemetery,

take the ivory cradle of skull in my hands,

place the lower jaw in its hinge,

as if she could speak, her deer language,

and she would reveal the story

that was her life.

 

I imagine between her reconnected jaw

the sweet crush of spring grasses,

tangy mustard, the spurt of windfall apples

from a ranch deserted and gone fallow.

Those she shared with the dumb cows,

with their liquid eyes,

their factory plod of ruminations.

 

From her muzzle rose predictions of the coming day:

ozone of coming storm,

the drowsy, ubiquitous heat.

In season, she lent her female scent

to musk of the stag's mount; later,

the uneasy smell of blood,

the taste of her fawns under a determined,

rough tongue.

 

Then, she smelled best,

the danger and stealth of cougar.

then she heard best,

through antennae ears,

the brash rustle and crunch of dogs running pack.

 

All of these belong to me now.

I place her vacant head to rest on ground

where once she ran,

muscles stretched, ligaments pulled to bone,

contained in sleek fur, possessed of dense immunity,

where her heart pounded out its wild resonance,

thrashed at its insolent cage,

now, her pristine headstone.

 

Carol Brendsel lives in Mimbres.

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