Wednesday, November 18, 2009


At the crossing

On South Poplar,

An old man lost his life.

By the time I drove across,

Darkness hid the scene.

I saw nothing of eternity,

Only a huddle of people,

Caught in headlights.

The old man was gone,

As if he’d never been.

I wondered as I drove on home

If he had known too late

That this would be his end.

Further out on the mountain,

I had to stop for an old buck

Standing in the road.

Impassive in my headlights,

He gazed at me a long time

Before deciding to turn and leap away.


  1. Hello Karen~ this reminds me of my uncle who was hit by a train many years ago. i often wonder if he knew it was his last moment on earth. your poem has definitely hit a nerve for me. great work. have a wonderful night. tell Juliet Catherine i said hello.

  2. This is one of those poems that I could read over and over again. What captures me is the profundity of this poem - it calls for knowledge & perceptivenss to write such a piece, and the same things to read it on a level of understanding at which you want us to comprehend it - I think. (No, I have not been drinking cheap wine - again.)

    I'll just say that this poem is so indicative of what is being published in modern literary journals. Ordinary words, thoughts, and theme written up in a find poetic form. It is right up there with Ted Kooser, Joy Harjo, Robert Haas, Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, etc.

    The symbolism of the deer is perfect here - mystical & spiritual. The ending is so impressive - great flourish! Made me take in my breath. I'll borrow a line from Bob ...I'm jealous of this poem! lol

  3. Lots of lovely human thoughts and feelings here. There's always something ethereal and spiritual about gazing into the eyes of a deer.

  4. The crossings of three paths that night were mysterious--even his body was gone when you drove by. You could only wonder at his passing. The the stag, the lord of forest, crossing your path with some intent to give you a message, I think. Very profoud poem. Worth another reading, worth placement in a journal. Ghostly and mystical.

  5. This is beautiful, Karen. I, too, was reminded of a personal loss, but I think the poem appeals to me most because I can't help being the old man in the road, just for a moment. Then, I see the scene through your eyes...until the buck has to decide whether to go or stay, which leads me to wonder again about the old man. This is indeed a very impressive poem.

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  7. Incredible writing.

    I too, hope I can give the gift of presence to the people I encounter, sick and disabled and vunerable, or productive but unwise.....
    keep writing often, please

  8. You took me from being one of those bystanders to being the buck who had a choice to make.

    Thank you for this.

  9. This is haunting, I like the way you weave the story...

  10. It is a finely told narrative. The old buck in the same situation was fearless, the old man I wonder what his eyes said as he saw a final moment without much room for a decision.

    There is much that could be commented on in this piece Karen but be it sufficient to say that it is well crafted and well read.

  11. This is so beautiful, Karen, on so many levels. I'm wondering if the buck carried away the man's spirit? You're a wonderful writer and I always enjoy reading your poems. Love & Blessings!

  12. I am with K. Lawson Gilbert on this one. It feels so complete and crafted, so natural within the form, with such guidance by you that I am sure I see with your eyes and not on some tangent of my own, that this poem stands with any recently crafted on the planet.

    I am reminded that a person has no way to get to this level of poesy without writing writing writing.

  13. Beautifully done, Karen--the understated & matter-of-fact writing is just perfect for this.

  14. This is remarkable, Karen. I fully agree with K. Lawson Gilbert. I am no expert on poetry and the craft itself, but this is so wonderfully written and precise.

    And the title, also wonderful and so fitting.


  15. Sad, this one. It made me feel a chill, as if I wished to read it by day, instead of at night.

  16. Darkness always hides the scene, or tries to. As if he'd never been? yes. The buck went on, you went on, the Sun came up and distant people laughed at mundane things. Maybe, after all, the buck is the only one with wisdom; he doesn't think-he just is til he isn't. A wonderful write Karen. I just recently penned a piece called "The Hunt" that'll collect dust for a few months and the piece I'm putting out next week is about deer and death. Go figure. ~rick

  17. My favorite line is "I saw nothing of eternity", not sure why... maybe because eternity is something that you can't seek out (even at a scene where you expect it), it just kind of presents itself to you. I think the eternity is in the connection between the man and the deer, there's a whole lot of thought about reincarnation and totemism running through my head while reading that...

    This. Is good. I'll have to re-read it a couple times to get a better sense.

  18. this is one of my favorite kinds of poems - deceptively simple so that it kind of sneaks up on you. like sandra, the end of this shifted gears for me and brought me back to the beginning, and it was almost a different poem. the motives and moments are all shrouded in that darkness, and i felt a little like that buck in the headlights - not impassive, but meditative - to choose what direction to go. a lot of good writers can communicate what they think, but it takes a great one to lead you to think deeper and farther than what they wrote - which is where this led me.

  19. I found this poem quite different from your usual pieces, although it is exceptional. You might like to read a poem by Canadian poet, Earle Birney, entitled "Arrivals—Wolfville" (1962) It's the first thing that came to mind for me.


  20. Wow, Karen. I'm also struck by the understated heft of this poem. It really wrapped around me, like the mist in the night.

    I couldn't help but feel (and hope?) like the old buck had learned something of the old man, through your silent light. Or maybe it truly is just the randomness of place, time, directions, intersections.

    A pearl of cohesion. I think the eternal is found in its circling.

  21. Michelle - So sorry to bring back painful memories of such a terrible loss. I hope for his sake that he didn't even know.

    Kaye - Thank you for such effusive praise. This is a departure for me, and I nearly didn't post it because of that, but I'm glad I did. I really need to hear what people think of these different styles. I must start reading the more modern works. I'm ashamed to say that I don't much do that, but I'm adding those you mention to my list. Thanks again, dear friend.

    Willow - We certainly have our share of "deer gazing" where I live. I actually had to stop twice more on that same night! I can't have a garden or an apple on the tree that they don't share. I love watching them, though, from my kitchen window in the mornings.

    Chris - Thank you for noticing all the levels of the poem. The connection of the old man and the deer were profoundly important to me.

    Sandra - Somehow, seeing that deer just after passing the crossing where the old man was killed struck me as almost holy. The connection was something I couldn't ignore. I'm glad you felt it too, although I'm sorry if the poem brought forth sad memories.

    Dianne - Thank you, and welcome to my blog. I appreciate your comments.

    Aniket - Thanks for that comment. The deer really did have a choice, but he was the one in control of the situation. He stopped me, after all! Thanks, friend.

    Juliet - Thank you. I'm glad you stopped by.

    TWM - Thank you. I wonder, too, about the old man, but I really don't even want to imagine what he must have thought. I prefer to believe he remained oblivious. I hope, anyway.

    Marion - Thank you! What a lovely thing to say! (I'll take it!) I felt the connection of the old man and the buck just as you said.

    Christopher - Hello! I hope you are well. Thanks for stopping by and for your very kind comment.

    John - Thank you! I'm sorry I haven't been around to your new blog yet. I will (as soon as I leave babyland!)

    Calli - I always value your comments, and I appreciate the artist that you are. Thank you!

    Rachel - That's an intersting comment, since it takes place at night, but I understand. I really even felt strange passing by the place in the light of the next day.

    Rick - I think you're right about the buck - he just is until he isn't, and that's the greatest wisdom of all. I look forward to reading your deer poems! It must be the season (as long as they don't have jingle bells, ha!)

    Joseph - Your comments mean a great deal to me, and I especially appreciate the connections you make with reincarnation and totemism. Thank you.

    joaquin - I think "meditative" is a great word for the buck, but it was almost as if he were looking at my machine and thinking whether or not to be afraid/impressed/challenged. Taking his time gave me the time to make the connections between him and the old man and what had just occurred. Mortality. Just a heartbeat and sometimes a choice. You always have such insight. Thank you.

    Kat - Thanks for the recommendation. I'll try to find that. This is a departure for me, but sometimes, as you know, they write themselves.

  22. Re, Kat's remark about Birney's poem, I read a paper once where Birney talked about the way the passengers in the car in Arrivals, Wolfville were shaping what happened, and the way the poet takes a series of events and shapes them, as you have so effectively done here, into a narrative. I got an honest to God goosebump shiver when that buck stepped into your headlights.

  23. Sorry, it was the passengers in the train, not in the car, getting back on after the accident, "eager for heat and motion arrivals/ and shaping already what happened." I looked online and as far as I can tell Arrivals isn't available anywhere. If you can't find it and Kat doesn't have it drop a note in my comment box and I'll send it to you. Here's the first bit -
    "It was the hand that caught in me

    Sudden as a beast the blizzard
    had whirled on us was gone
    as quick over the hill and howling
    through the next village whose spire
    could be glimpsed blotting out now
    in a grey fury

    And we wading a straggle of passengers
    in town shoes through a snowscape
    clean and cosy as any Christmas card
    the small firs like spunwhite candy
    spaced on the ice-cream hillocks

    Already the sunlight quivers down
    burning on the narrow tracks at the crossing
    and fires the sleet that sheathes one flank
    and the bland diesel-face of our train
    so small and innocent now it has stopped"

  24. Sarah - I couldn't help but feel the connections, either, and I like to think the buck was carrying something of the old man with him. On the other hand, I'm always fascinated with the randomness of things, so your comment makes me think of place and time, too.

    Mairi - Thank you for the introduction to Arrivals. Reading the first few stanzas makes me ashamed of my own weak attempts at poetry but also leaves me hungry for more. Thanks for your generous offer. I very well may take you up on it.

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  26. Karen, I love the way you interwoven a couple of metaphors in this piece. A nice poem...

  27. Karen, your poems always take me places - this was no exception! I was right there staring into the buck's eyes and seeing the soul of the dead man in them.

    An incredible poem!

  28. I wonder such things too. We have all the time in the world. Until we have none.

  29. Hi Lovely, just to let you know your name was picked for a copy of my book. Can you email your address to

  30. Karen and Mairi,

    I have the poem in a collection of Canadian Poets. Karen, I Will type out the piece and send it to you. (Hope I don't make any typos!)


  31. George - Thank you! It's good to hear from you again.

    Margaret - If this poem did that, I am well pleased! Thank you!

    Jason - So true. It does seem that way at times; maybe that's what allows us to go on, the ignorance of our certain futures.

    Sarah - How wonderful! I am thrilled. I can't wait to receive your wonderful new book! Thank you.

    Kat - Thank you for typing in the poem. It is so very good, and I'm really happy to be introduced to Birney.

  32. Hey, Lazybones! wake up and write something. We can't carry you forever. Sheesh! ~rick

  33. Let's see: besides a full-time job, grammy duty, and company comin', today I baked four pies, prepped the turkey, gave the house a once-over, and TRIED to write a poem that still hasn't come together. (But your comment has me grinning ear to ear!)

  34. Absolutely beautiful, Karen. I love it from first to last, and it has a power over me that won't go away. I'm hitting the road for a bit but just had to come by to say hello tonight. It was a pleasure to read your poem, as always. I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!

  35. Beautiful expression difficult to find words.


  36. This is wonderful The connections between the buck and the old man are many and layered, but the reader is left to form them. True depth!

  37. Julie - I just got back here and see I neglected to respond to your comment. I hope your holiday was wonderful, too. Thanks for the comments.

    ashok - Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    Dave - Thank you, as always, for your comments.

  38. 'I saw nothing of eternity'

    so much in this one line
    really like the ton you gave to thsi one and the way you ended it..

  39. Sad ending for the man. I love how you brought the buck into the scene. Somehow it was like the buck was the man revivified, and the communication as you stopped and had the shared gaze was ... how to put into words. I can't, but you did and it was haunting.

  40. circumstantial stuff sometimes hits the hardest. I very much atoned with part of this writing; so thanks.

  41. Makes you wonder about the old buck, eh? Quite an eerie poem

  42. Gorgeous poem Karen, lovely illustration at the top and the end of it is just shiver inducing.

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  44. Really beautiful - the whole poem works perfectly (big apologies again for the linky mix-up - plagued by teeny blogging problems this week)

  45. See! Comments popping up all over the place, and disappearing from other places - grrrrrr

  46. Enjoyed this poem Karen. Understated but many things heaped beneath the surface. I liked the atmosphere I liked these lines

    'Darkness hid the scene.

    I saw nothing of eternity,

    Only a huddle of people,

    Caught in headlights.'

    Is there no life after death, are we blinded by the light? But then does the soul of the man live on in the buck?. Intriguing.

    Was the poem based on real events?

  47. Poetry bus friends - Sorry for pooping out on writing a new poem, but my muse has gone. I'm not amused! This poem was based on real events that happened one night in November of 09. I had heard that an old man was struck by a train at the crossing near my home that I pass over every day. As I drove home in the darkening hours that day, the emergency workers and a few bystanders (family, I assume) were still there. The rest is in the poem. The buck was real and seemed to have something to say to me. I felt as close to a spirit then as I ever have. Thanks for reading this old one!