Cortada’s Key Deer

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.

On Cortada’s Red Wolves

There’s a bit of a story behind the poem “On Cortada’s Red Wolves.”

Back in the Before Times, I went to an event and exhibition of  Xavier Cortada’s works at Creative Pinellas. Cortada is a Florida-based artist whose work often to focuses on the environment. I was one of a group of people reading from their works of environmentally focused fiction: in my case, part of a chapter from my novel The Tollkeeper.

During that event, they explained a contest in which writers were invited to compose a poem based on Cortada’s works. I took several pictures of his pieces to see if anything sparked my poetic impulses. I don’t compose a lot of poetry, but I did write two pieces that I brought along to the contest on the appointed day.

The Overly Prepared Poet

Then I learned that the poems were supposed to be written during this second event, not before it. I clearly hadn’t read the fine print. I briefly considered presenting one of my poems as having been written the day of the event, but that wouldn’t be fair. Both poems had taken me well over an hour, and an hour or so as the time we were allotted to write in situ.

So, I composed in incomplete poem during the event, one that had no chance of winning. But I still had these other two poems sitting on my proverbial shelf. Then a few years later I came across an unusual online magazine called Apocalypse Confidential. Reading though it, I thought the tone fit with my two Cortada-inspired poems and so submitted the one I thought was strongest.

To my surprise (I’m always surprised when someone accepts something of mine), they agreed to publish it. So below is a link to it for anyone who is interested in a strange (definitely) and darkly humorous (I’m hoping) ekphrastic poem.


Featured image: Head shot of artist Xavier Cortada taken in 2007: