Cortada’s Key Deer
The deer’s pose is a trope so old
it could be painted in ochre and hematite
on the dark, irregular curves of Paleolithic skulls,
like the caves of Lascaux and Cosquer.
Its narrow head high, perked ears alert,
almond eyes forward, scanning for stalking
shadows or low rustles, poised to bound if
catching sight of reflected glass or the gleam of gunmetal.
There’s no telling the deer is tiny or tame,
evolved to fit snugly in the tight pockets of Florida’s keys,
packed in with cotton mice, ring-necked snakes,
leathery Conchs and tourists red as steamed lobsters,
their days spent skittering among the corals done.
But it’s clear this deer is something new,
abstracted into polygons, disfigured yet distilled
amid a wood of dark, circling selves,
an underbelly charred as trees after a forest burn.
Surviving or transcended, it’s infused with the fractured light
of a fragile forest clearing, coat sienna as sunset,
though with a fractured face, as if the fauvist hunter Braque
were targeting kills with kaleidoscopes.
Then the moment holds, the deer captured in amber,
facets of itself suspended and reflected in infinity,
there and not, a talisman hung on a leather cord
around the neck of a naked, horned hunting god
roaming sorrel plains, chanting ancient
songs of human extinction.
Author’s note: “Cortada’s Key Deer” is an ekphrastic poem based on a work of art by Xavier Cortada called “(Florida is…) Key Deer.” Click the link to see the original art.