American Life in Poetry: Column 562

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I love to have people come up to me and say, "You'll never believe what I saw this morning," and then go on to tell me. It's their delight that I like so much. Here's a poem in that vein by Kevin Cole, from the literary journal Third Wednesday. Cole lives in South Dakota.

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways
The sight would not have been so startling:
A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

Perhaps they would not have worried as much
As I about the fragility of it all:
Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears
And beatific face just above the water.

At one point she hit upon a shoal
And appeared to walk upon a mantle,
The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.

I thought she might pause for a while to rest,
To gain some bearings, but instead she bound
Back in, mindful I suppose
Of the vulnerability of open water.


When she finally reached the island
And leapt into dark stands
Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,
I swear I almost fell down in prayer.

And now I long to bear witness of such things,
To tell someone in need the story
Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Kevin L. Cole, “Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon,” (Third Wednesday, Vol. VIII, No. 4, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Kevin L. Cole and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.