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Thanatophobia on Shinbone Valley Road

Dearest fawn,
on the pavement, forgive me.

Having found you already
dying, panting, feebly hoofing the asphalt,
unable to crawl away
from your back end—

limp, twisted, varnishing
itself in black-red,
hide gashed and mottled, light
fur thickly matted—

what my father once called mercy
I can’t set my hand to,

can’t raise the barrel,
send you leadenly into
the after, where nothing awaits us.

Life has been hard. It will yet be worse.
For this, I am sorry.

Yesterday, my father brought me
two halves of a rattlesnake—
one gripped by the rattler, the other
the head.
The pieces swayed in the wind.

This is what happens, he said,
and said nothing else.

This is what happens, fawn.
Nothing else.
I don’t want to believe that.

The weather is nice today, and it will be
a long time before I die.

Posted 08/28/12
"Thanatophobia on Shinbone Valley Road" was originally published in The Southern Review, vol. 48, no. 3.
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