Surviving for a Season

The spike buck
won’t close his eyes
in death; he’s looking elsewhere.

Pulley crying, we hoist him
head down
to make the first split.
Mary Charles sighs
“New Year’s hash”,
breath ghosting in the cold barn.

Some fool made a bad shot
last November,
the blade’s splintered,
spine’s cracked,
meat in the old wound’s
worthless. It made him slow.
We can’t eat this suffering.

Cut out the black meat.
It’s a mercy
for us all she says,
rolling the gut bucket away.



Click here to read K.L. Johnston on the origin of the poem.

Image: “dead deer” by Julia Gfrörer, licensed under CC 2.0.

K.L. Johnston:
The events taking place in “Surviving for a Season” are biographical, a snapshot of my first exposure to a subsistence level lifestyle. The folks in this poem were not interested in a trophy, but in having enough to eat to get them through the hardest season of the year. Helping to butcher that buck was a lesson in empathy and a definition of mercy that I have never forgotten. Living on the edge, sympathy for the buck was necessarily tempered with practical, albeit self-conscious relief in the knowledge of their own survival.

K.L. Johnston
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