I followed my father past the camp,
past the two pecan trees
and the pine that marked our boundary,
black mud sucking my hipboots
as I ran behind him.
When he reached the bayou
I froze in the marsh grass
at a black-tailed deer
collapsed into the bank,
skin draped like linen
over the hoops of its ribs.
Its nose still dipped into the water;
its stomach swelled.
Around it the marsh hovered,
swirled; insects dived and crawled,
hurried to hide the body.
I wanted to hurry, too,
but the deer’s stillness kept me
from bolting. I held my ears
against the humming of blue flies
and pressed into my father’s shirt.
He shrugged over me, ready to fish,
pulled me away from the deer’s empty sockets.
I forced myself not to look,
not to see the deer disappear,
not to watch the beetles
dig into the deer’s stale flesh.
Death, my father explained,
and slapped my back as if to pat it in.
I cast harder and more often
until I could look at him
and no longer see his eyes
fall back into their sockets,
until I could ignore his hollow hand
patting me on the shoulders,
until his words faded into the marsh’s breathing.