Susan Nguyen
Impossible Deer

When I visit Virginia in winter,
Mom says she’s been seeing prints

on our snow-covered deck.

Deer, she tells me. I laugh.

Deer can’t jump that high.

Maybe opossum or raccoon.

But she doesn’t know what those

are, not my English words

for them. And I don’t know

how to translate. I’m frustrated

now – at how often our conversations

go like this: faltering, me punishing

her with silence for not understanding,

How my first instinct towards

my mother is never kindness.

Who am I to tell her what is possible?

Just this morning looking out
from the deck, I saw the fire

of eight cardinals burning

in our honeysuckle. An omen.
Maybe that was my mother too.

One landed on the snow bright

as a radish, as the pendant

my mother gifted that I refuse

to wear – too showy, too loud.

My mother has already done

the impossible, making it here.

What have I done? I want to believe

that I can be someone else. A better

daughter. These are my mother’s

deer, I’ll tell everyone.

They leap into flight on cold
nights and return as red-feathered
birds, spilling across the sky.








This poem is the winner of the 2022 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, an award established by APR to honor the late Stanley Kunitz’s dedication to mentoring poets.

Found In Volume 51, No. 05
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Susan Nguyen
About the Author

Susan Nguyen’s debut poetry collection, Dear Diaspora (University of Nebraska Press, 2021) won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize and have appeared or are forthcoming in The RumpusTin HouseDiagram, and elsewhere. She is an alum of Tin House Winter and Summer Workshops, the Idyllwild Writers Week, and the Hedgebrook Writers-in-Residence program.