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.