White Tail Deer, Mule Deer
Back guiding a little less than a month now, and all the world is fish. Hooked fish, netted fish, released fish, lost fish. Somewhere along the line this winter I forgot how much I love the month of June. The rivers are big and muddy, guiding is steady thanks to a few incredible clients who take it upon themselves to enjoy June as much as I do, and for every day of work I typically have a day of rest: trail running through scrub oak and sagebrush, writing, hucking frisbees, and hanging out with friends.
But this summer's guiding wasn't such a sure bet: for the life of me I couldn't shake last year's feeling of burnout. It came on strong in September and I thought it would go away as it usually does by Thanksgiving. Only it lingered, compounded itself into Oregon's winter days, and while I got out steelhead fishing a number of times, it was never with the zest I typically feel. Not sure what to do when April rolled around and I was looking more forward to mowing my lawn than fishing I called a fellow guide who had recently taken a sabbatical for a summer.
"Sure," he said, "it was a great experience. Mostly what it made me do was remember how grateful I am to be a fishing guide."
After the conversation I wandered out to my back porch swing, sat down in the sunshine, and did some hard thinking. My yearly migration from Oregon to Colorado, or from Colorado to Oregon, depending on which of my job professions I'm most immersed in and what time of year it is, has been all kinds of problematic. At least for marriage and kids. On the other hand, in order to swing being a bonafide non-miserable poet, I've had to get creative in life, make poetry my dark horse, and shape my life around something in which I seem unlikely to succeed (or at least something in which success cannot be measured very easily, thank you Michael Lewis).
Poetry takes time, a disposition to dedicate oneself to an unpopular art form, and unless you want to be homeless, a job (or several). Fly-fishing, on the other hand, takes time, a willingness to dedicate oneself to a highly romanticized sport, and a willingness, sooner or later, depending on how obsessed you are, to become a fly-fishing guide. And teaching, the steadying leg on an otherwise un-functionable stool, takes service, showing up ready for anything, and the ability, at times, to give up all other your other passions.
I didn't stay out on the back porch swing for very long. I had things to do. And one of them was to get a poetry submission in for this year's Fischer Poetry Prize, put on by The Telluride Institute's Talking Gourds Program, in which a poem I submitted, White Tail Deer, Mule Deer, was a co-finalist.
As for this summer's guiding, here I am. Standing in big muddy rivers, hustling hard for my dark horse, as my dark horse continues to run circles around me.
White Tail Deer, Mule Deer
White Tail Deer
Remind me rabbit, remind me moth. Run-
skitter kamikaze across the road, tail bouncing.
I want to say like a white flag. I want to throw
in the towel, too. I want to streak the field,
the fence, the road, for another fence, another
field, hotly pursued by nothing. A memory.
Last fall’s rifle shot. January’s freezing rain
and snow. At the tavern Mike says he thinks
they must be starving. Aren’t we also come out
of the horizontal white flakes to plant kisses
on bumpers. The only thing more violent is love.
Mule deer cluster in the vase of the ditch.
Loiter at the edges of hay sheds. If a mule deer
asks for friendship, do you take it? Cold
wet nose pressed into your palm. What comes
next? Cross your yard every night in the same
worn through patch of snow. So rarely alone.
Bright eyes. Ears that praise the sky. How
could you ever in good conscience say yes?
The dog in you which gets beat up. The cougar
whose teeth fit perfectly into each vertebrae
and doesn’t. I want to yell Go home!
but home is across these endless roads of dusk.