Poem of the Week

“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

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16 Responses to “Emergency” by Derek Sheffield

  1. krs@lclark.edu says:

    Practical advice here that could save us: when a doe passes across the road, there is often at least one more about to follow.

    Thank you for this.

  2. cori says:

    let them be one step ahead of ours… just as you are. ~cori

  3. Daniel Corrie says:

    A beautiful poem. As Will Wright points out, the short lines give the poem’s cadence the feel of the tentativeness of the situation being described. I love, by poem’s end, the deer steps being described as “silky pistons,” melding the other-than-human with the humanly constructed, as other-than-human and human meld in this moment of mindfulness and heedfulness. The poem ends on a realistic note (“cornered heart”), acknowledging the precarious lives of the other-than-human in our time of the ubiquitously human.

  4. Autumn Doucet says:

    Beautiful and engaging.

    “… watching the silky
    pistons of their steps,
    my hazard lights
    pulsing like a
    cornered heart.”

    I melted.

  5. eric j stepper says:

    All of the above but also so many decisions to be made in milliseconds…your reverie is broken and then…are there more…will a car in a hurry run around us…how do I warn oncoming drivers…hazards flashing…if I step hard on the brake maybe it will be brighter…wow what magnificent animals. This poem has a lot of feeling for me. I love it.

  6. Georgia Waterbury says:

    as a lover of Nature and especially the delicate and fragile deer I am lucky to see, this poem is a great reminder to stop and look and see and feel…. when you raise your head from your phones, tablets or whatever, who knows what delights the world has to offer, if only you pause to seek the quiet….

  7. Connie K Walle says:

    Beautiful poem Derek. Congratulations

  8. John Willson says:

    A kind of yin to the yang of William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark”. Beautiful work!

  9. Leita says:

    Beautiful, insightful and elegant. As usual, Derek, you help us to slow down and to take notice of those fleeting moments, the small things that make up the sums of our lives.

  10. Jim Bodeen says:

    This poem has attracted some wonderful readers. All in one room? Or pulled over, behind Derek?

  11. Roger Lathbury says:

    Dimeter! And what is more urgent?

    A lovely poem.

  12. Connie K Walle says:

    Beautiful. So good to hear from you!!!

  13. Jake says:

    Nice poem Derek. Looking out from your prius, an interchange of the deer world and humankind took both groups home on slightly altered paths.

  14. Gloria Piper Roberson says:

    Bravo! All sewn together with your magical threads of poetry.

  15. Bill Yake says:

    Splendid. Thank you Derek.

    Here at the edge of the greenbelt, it’s the season for blacktail does and fawns to transit the backyard. One with two; another with one. A third, alone this year. We seem to most always be aware of each other — although they are more keen. Eye, ear, and nose — tuned to the world. Swiveling their ears to slight disturbances. Freezing. By comparison we bumble. I imagine them hearing our radio. And the steady pulse of your flashers. Working out the implications.

  16. M.L.Lyons says:

    Thank you, Derek for sharing such a wonderful poem. It was truly a joy to read.

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