Late autumn, the buck that has come to know me
paws at the rusted earth for what’s still green
outside my window, unaware that I am present,
watching him rake his branching antlers—
chipped from generations of battle, like porcelain
consigned to a pawn shop shelf—
through piles of accumulated leaves and redwood duff.
Desperate to find acorns, as if something so small
could feed winter’s hunger.
We are old acquaintances, though I haven’t seen him in a while.
Now, the dappled light from leafless trees grays his thinning fur.
I remember the time he popped my just-planted coastal redwood
out of the ground. The roots rose above us, briefly blocking out the sky.
I remember the time, body swollen with hormones, crazed by the delicate
scent of a doe, he charged me up a hill, where I slashed at him with a brittle
pine bough—old as bone—to wake him from his seasonal trance.
And now our eyes meet again, each afraid that the slightest movement
might disrupt our connection. What hurt me this time is his shriveled
right hindquarter, his awkward hobbling across the yard, his raised white
tail a flag of surrender, as if I were no longer a threat.
I used to try to make him into something he’s not, some metaphor for my own
fading green, my rusting earth. But I know he’s just a tired old buck.
And each of us are smelling the wood smoke from last night’s fires,
both stinging and soothing us. Together, so small
under the same ashen sky.