The Dead Deer on the Side of the Road

  • When I see a dead deer on the side of Rte. 17 West,
  • its hind legs pointing up to the sky stiff as sticks,
  • its body crumpled and still,
  • I think of you in the ER cubicle at Valley Hospital,
  • your eyes blank and staring, your body motionless.
  • The doctor says, “He’s gone,” and closes your eyes.
  • When I see that dead deer, the way life is gone from it,
  • I cry for you and for the deer and for all the other creatures
  • lost. I talk to you, as though you were actually in the car
  • with me and could help me carry the cup of grief
  • that I try to balance in my hands.
  • Too much death surrounds me now, my dead, my mother,
  • father, sister, best friends of forty years, all gone
  • and I mourn for them all, but you who were with me
  • for forty-six years, you are the one I am afraid to grieve for,
  • afraid that I will never fill the space your dying leaves. I pretend
  • to myself that you are still with me in our family room just as I do
  • in this car. It is only when I cry for the deer I am able
  • to cry for you. “I love you,” you said, the day before you died.
  • When I came into the room you turned to me with a smile
  • that filled your face with light. I will carry that smile
  • in my memory as a talisman, a worry stone that I can hold
  • and touch when I am most alone, most afraid.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a recipient of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature, the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her collection All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions). She is the founder/executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also director of the Binghamton Center for Writers and the creative-writing program, and professor of poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. She has published 18 books and with her daughter Jennifer, she is co-editor of four anthologies. Her website is

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