All of Us, Whatever We Are

Remember the time you watched your uncle
prepare to enter the woods to hunt? The uncle
hunted with a bow and arrow, he greased
his boots for waterproofing, he wore
a brilliant poppy for a hat. You did not go
to see the breath billow from the mouth
of the uncle past the brush of the brown moustache,
or pause when he paused, knee raised, knuckles
loose, ears prickling. You stayed at home
and hoped for the deer and the uncle to miss
each other, to dance in different parts of the woods,
you didn't know how hunting worked. You imagined
saltlicks and deerblinds and crooks of trees
and cracks of branches. It was all out of books.
The books fell down around them, man and animal,
a flush of russet leaves, and landed without sound.
You went on turning pages, and they went on
stepping silently, and the arrow waited, eager
for the string to touch its lip, for the air to dare
to bite. In you and in the deer and in the uncle
the hot blood ran after its own scents, trailed
by its own pursuers, the hearts made their fists
and opened their mouths over and over.
In the uncle's hand, the arrow felt
indifference, as the knives and bullets
and needles and steering columns all feel
indifference. We are dry, now we are wet.
It is warm, but it will soon be cold, the body,
the blood, the idea of you hovering there
as the last of the life leaks away. Where
does the warmth go? We try to track it down,
to find it lurking in the dark trees, coax it
into sunpools, hope it stares at us
with enormous eyes. We want to touch
its little feet, to turn the soft tongue from side
to side. We move through snow and bear up
under wind. We blink the frost from the lashes,
we flex the thumb going numb in the chill. We want
the beating thing that lies beyond the reach
of our barbed touch. We want chance to spin
the dial, we want the arrow to thread
the gnarled trunks and hit the heat in the heart —

We run to it, bracken snapping, shouts
of wonder in the ringing air. We hold the heat
a moment, its muzzle wet, and then we feel it
moving off, a shuffling shadow with no edges
cast by a cloud that is not there. And you look up
and the uncle looks up too and the deer
with its amber iris stares along with you
and everyone sees sky and endless space
and the unstoppable cold comes dropping.