“Emergency” by Derek Sheffield


A doe sets her left
front hoof onto
the road as I roll
to a stop­­––and
watch her through
the windshield take
a second sleek
step as another
doe appears. More
slow steps, and
pause as they turn
dark, unblinking
eyes toward two
cars pulling up
behind me.
A few seconds
is all it takes—
the deer going on,
nearly there,
my foot lifting
from the brake—when
two others appear
and the glint
of another car.
And I press
my foot more
firmly to the brake—let
them be one
thing ahead of
ours—and let us
get where we need to
watching the silky
pistons of their steps,
my hazard lights
pulsing like a
cornered heart.

doeDerek Sheffield, poetry editor of Terrain.org, author of the poetry collection Through the Second Skin (Orchises), and one of the Northwest’s most important ecologically centered writers, crafts poetry that often intermingles the human and non-human worlds. In his works wilderness enriches us, makes us more human, and reminds us of our own primordial origins.

In “Emergency,” modernity gives right of way to deer that cross a road, and all who witness these creatures are not unlike the deer: transfixed, slightly nervous. The short, delicate lines of the poem, a piece devoid of ornament, suggest a shortness of breath, a simultaneous quickening and decelerating of experience.

The ending of the poem potently reminds that there are two species being witnessed and that both, full of pulsing blood, sentient, and vulnerable, belong.
–William Wright

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.