Odocoileus hemionus

Mule deer
Nancy Hastings



i - An Appearance


Snow is falling on the highest peaks

as light fades in the lower canyons.

Two does shadowed by two fawns

browse on mountain mahagony, shred

twigs from a scrub oak, await

an unfurling leaf, a desert sea change.


One by one they lunge through drifts,

leave, in passing, a faint trace

of themselves below the ridgeline.

Hidden from wind, they hunker down

in an arroyo, translucent as mist,

specters captured by a snow sky.


ii - First Light


They scatter into view, stot on four legs

the way a jackrabbit clears the air

over the dugout of a coyote, retreat

in a mad dash to an arroyo.


They leapfrog brambles, then blur into a thicket,

in a sleight-of-hand shuffle,

nature’s perfect vanishing act.


Then, as if on command, an instant replay:

The slight pause of the leader, ever

so clever in a mid-air pivot. See how she obeys

an impulse to meander, mulling over

winter grass fed by recent snows.


This too is a dance a leader must do:

Sidestep down a mountain, make amends,

ascend a game trail on an east-facing slope.

This time slower so the youngest ones

can find sure footing, sip from a spring.


iii - High Noon


As hiking boots disturb gravel

near an abandoned water tank,

a doe alerts, detects an invasive species

lingering in shadow. Silence becomes

her default to danger.


Two bucks emerge from a thicket,

regal heads crowned with antlers.

Soon a tug of war ensues

as they rise up on hind legs, pull

down the lowest limbs of the black locust.


See how their elegant necks arch back

baring a jugular vein to the sky

as if this were some ancient sacrifice

offered to the winter sun.


iv – On Higher Ground 


Sometimes you see them

gleaning shrub land above you.


Ears in constant motion, preening

to detect a disturbance in desert air.


Some say muleys can sense water

two feet down. Within soft eyes,


there’s recognition of patterns in motion,

imminent danger in solid shapes.


Midday a buck beds down on a rocky ridge,

a doe slightly above him, framed


by the span of antlers that extend upward.

It’s her turn to stand watch over him.


v - Line of Sight


You rest in shade on rim rocks,

attune your attention to a human scent

half a mile away. Someone’s on the trail.


Your eyes follow the least movement

in an all-encompassing arc.

It’s little wonder you keep staring:


Before you, I’m a singularity of light,

an ultra-violet radiance. Would that I could

throw off these garments that glow.


vi - Nightfall, January 2019 


A mule deer is wary of a blood moon eclipse

embued with the dying red


of hundreds of sunsets from around the world

suddenly melded as a soft glow


on its surface. She cannot climb fast enough

to outrun the umbra of earth’s shadow.


Tonight she witnesses what she cannot name:

a Wolf Moon overshadowed by something greater


than any predator she knows.




Nancy Hastings teaches in the Department of English at New Mexico State University.
Her poems have appeared in Poetry (Chicago), Commonweal, The Connecticut River Review, Prairie Schooner, and Puerto Del Sol. She leads the Arroyo Writers Group.