Issue 5: Susan Wicks


Deer in Summer

for Bridget

She came as we walked one evening

in a field of blond corn: just a ripple of barley

in low sunlight, and her back

appearing above it in a sudden arc

like a brown dolphin, accompanying us nearly

to our door, as dolphins sometimes accompany a ship.

That night, the storm. Before it broke,

the sound of something snuffling in our kitchen,

tearing at plastic with its claws and teeth

in a trail of yoghurt-pots. Then the lightning came closer,

closer, against the black

as the nut-tree at the window

started to thrash its snapping limbs and shriek

and I seemed to see her leaping

through the standing barley to a dry place

with her unseen fawn. Now as the fine hairs rise

on our arms, while I shiver

imagining the breaking of the next wave,

I want to believe

they lie together nestled in a deep

hollow lined with leaves, and sleep out the thunder.


All morning the tractors have been trundling across

our field, outlined against sky

or down there in the valley, muffled, then turning up

behind us with another swathe of cut hay

when we see the deer again,

a brownish streak between seedheads – caught

in her panic to escape

the dust, the metallic thunder,

while a tide of flattened grass laps at the green

trapezium she stands in, in a rout

of fieldmice and crickets, frogs, grasshoppers and larks

shrilling their fear between the last stalks.

Where were we when the frantic creatures broke

and flew for cover? We must have been out

paddling our fibreglass canoe

through the shallows, learning to shift our weight

into deeper water; or was it later

as we strolled the alleyways and galleries of stone

in search of that carved Last Judgement, its faceless shape

sinking in an abraded pan –

or was it a leaky boat?

When she makes her final leap across the sunlit stubble

every last thought is gone.

Deer Grazing

She barely looks up from her grass

at the sound of feet, filling her soft skin

before winter, but as I run past

her deep eyes seem to hold everything

in stillness. If I were up close

I’d see myself red-faced

in my kit and trainers, pausing to let my heart

subside in my throat and the day

tick gently, a plane drifting across.

That world in her eye

could crumble, burst into flame,

and the tiny people float down

like ash, their final messages

make rings in her iris as they fly apart.

Deer in Darkness

I sensed rather than saw them move

in the darkness, the dark fractionally displaced

at the edge of seeing, and flowing back

invisible, the touch of a blind ghost –

identical molecules of air replacing one another

or a kaleidoscope where every piece

is black, and slides silently into place.

Just a flicker as something shied past –

starlight or winking plane, the gleam of silver

birch trunks swaying, fall of a frosted leaf –

was a tail waltzing alone on the dark grass

and something invisible had changed places,

stirred in the darkness, shifted, or stepped over.


First light. A whole small herd of deer

stands nudging at my glass door

with their noses, jostling one another,

their breath painting the pane silver,

each in her small slick of clear.

I open a crack

and in they streak

between door-jamb and frame

in a reek of matted hair and something trodden,

leaving their warm roughness on my hands.

The deer I know by day

are shy, wary of humans,

ready to leap into a dark place

with a flash of scut, but these

flow in and in like strands

of braided water, weaving and interweaving

till I have to wake

and feel their noses on my face,

my breasts, nudging between my thighs.

What She Was

She jumps silently away

through moonlight, startled, and at first

she’s not herself: she’s a rocking-horse

swaying on rockers buried deep under snow,

her tail a white paintbrush –

or she’s some kind of small boat

making for harbour, plunging from crest to crest,

powder bursting all round her like spray.

Then she is what she is. As we drive away

I imagine her curled somewhere – just a deer in fresh snow,

forced to jump clear of a drift

into the trees’ shelter. The moonlight sifting

between trunks was incidental. She was in too deep,

floundering, almost ungainly –

though there was grace there too: a slow V

widens behind her like a ship’s wake.

And now I’ve lost her entirely.

Against a backdrop of sirens, streets, suburban houses,

she’s no longer deer. She’s barely

a silver rocking in the corner of my eye,

escaping towards woods. Yet something in me still pauses,

watches as she crests the wave and plunges,

feels itself blinded as she rises.

Susan Wicks’s latest book, Cold Spring in Winter, a translation of the french poet Valerie Rouzeau (Arc, 2009), was shortlisted both for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for Literary Translation and the Griffin International Poetry Prize in Toronto. She has a short novel forthcoming from Salt and a sixth collection of poems, House of Tongues, from Bloodaxe in 2011