Poem of the Week | March 30, 2015

This week we’re delighted to feature a poem by Phillip B. Williams, a finalist of our 2014 Editors’ Prize. Williams is a Chicago, Illinois native and the author of the forthcoming book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He’s also co-authored a book of poems and conversations called Prime (Sibling Rivalry Press). He is a Cave Canem graduate and received scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Anti-, Callaloo, Kenyon Review Online, Poetry, The Southern Review, West Branch and others. Phillip received his MFA in Writing from the Washington University in St. Louis. He is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry.
Author’s note:

I wrote “The Fawn” hoping to write a poem that could be taken on its own merit as mix between two realities. I wanted to have the supernatural, the surreal, happen and test the limits of human imagination’s training of turning everything unfamiliar or impossible in a symbol. It’s how we are taught in school, I suppose, and that training has burdened me as I fought through poems and stories asking “Well what does that really mean? What does that object or animal truly represent?” It seems unlikely that this literal reading of the fantastic can be taken without readers wanting to connect the dots beyond what few dots are connected here. The six-headed deer will become a candelabra of motherhood, some beastly representation of family drama. The family represented here will be read as the “real” story simply surrounded by fantasy that only reimagines the family. It’s a poem that I will use as a foundational text as I explore how to move through my own myth making and attempt to merge worlds, incidences, locations, and circumstances without allowing (at least not easily) the reader to trust more in themselves (creating symbols), forcing them to trust more so in me (what I give is all that is required).


The Fawn


The six-headed deer casts a strict shadow
in my mind where moonlight is the only light.
Umbra of reach. Umbra of letting go. The deer
bows its six chins to open its closed bud of horns
into a single crown, into a weight that can hold
nothing inside. It holds nothing, not even air
that is so easy to hold and not hold. When the yellow
moon arcs bright overhead the deer’s shadow
stretches over the stiff grass like an engorged timeline.
Umbra of measure. Umbra like a puddle
the deer could sip with its six heads, black water
falling from the mouths. The crown’s shadow draws
sharp points, a tree of every family the moon
has ever covered, a father and mother at the tip
of each branch. When the deer heads tremble—it is cold
in the mind—the fathers and the mothers occupy
different sides from where they started.
I got my sister that way but in that story only
our father swapped branches, our mothers as frozen
as the one deer head that has ceased moving, dead now
or sleeping while the others turn to the child deer,
turn to the brown, white-spotted fawn, to the hornless
thing laying not far off from the mother deer
and her many heads, her breasts full of dark water
that the fawn has never drank and the water
dripping down to the stiff grass in the yellow
light of the moon. The brown fawn has found itself
a bed of roses to rest in. The roses’ thorns make
the petal’s silk seem softer in contrast, one intensifying
the other. The fawn licks blood from its thorn-
pricked legs, hair slicked down from the thick wet
of fawn spit that the moon cannot make a mirror of.
The fawn stands and its own shadow lies now,
stubborn-like, a contradiction, while too the roses lie
still-warm and unfolding the way a crumbled man unfolds
from a dream that has crumbled him, for what is buried
in his thinking has tried to come out but failed,
this time has failed. Was his the face my sister saw
in that other story, a face she would never see again
except in a mirror, a mirror in which she looked
for herself but only saw him, his eyes a perplexing yellow,
his skin ashen as though embraced by the final season?
And now the crownless fawn stumbles toward its mother.
Their shadows mix as the fawn on branch-thin legs
walks to the dead or sleeping head that has not looked up
for some time and licks the muzzle. What if that deer head
opens its eyes and lifts its chin, opens
its mouth at a speed so slow it deserves a sound
though there will be no sound except from the tremble
of the deer’s many heads, their thick horns
clattering, the crown shattering, the branches reconfigured
again, their roots a beast, as hidden kin bloom in the cold
and that large mother stomps in the cold-caught mind?