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First Deer

Today’s poem is “First Deer” by Paul Corrigan. He is a retired Baxter Park Ranger whose poems have appeared in Yankee, the Maine Times and Maine Speaks - a Maine studies anthology in which "First Deer" appeared. Paul performs with North Country Strings, reading from his book At the Grave of the Unknown River Driver published by North Country Press.

He writes, "I was nearly 30 and my father was closing in on retirement when we first began to hunt together. Our Fall trips into the big woods north of Millinocket was a way of getting to know Dad as he grew older and was predisposed to reflect on his life. However, the speaker in "First Deer" was clearly in his adolescence when the experience of shooting a deer would leave a powerful lasting impression. It gave me pleasure to picture the father in the poem as a younger version of my dad, able to lead the way through thick woods while the son followed close behind him."

First Deer
by Paul Corrigan

In that thicket of creaking firs,
my sleeves rolled up, the cold
stropping its frosty blade on my spine,
I unlocked the warmth of a deer.
The sweet reek of his cedar-filled paunch
scented the air as my father,
placing his hands on mine,
guided them to the warm wet heart.
And as we felt under the hide, touching
the lungs and the stout cord of the windpipe,
he'd tell me what they were,
for he was pleased with this first deer
his boy had killed with one shot
through a screen of greengrowth.
He'd shot so many it tickled him
to see the thrill renewed in me
as I shivered with awe
and a little regret and winced
when I caught a whiff from the gut
or felt the hot blood trickle down my arm.
And as we worked on into dusk
without even checking a watch,
I thought of that quiet moment at mass
when the altar boy and the priest
get together to wash the chalice
and return the host to its house of gold,
unconcerned with who's looking on,
heads bent, eyes lowered, making sure
they clean everything up.
Then father flung the young nub horn
across his shoulders and struck off
while I tripped along behind him
until we reached camp in the dark
where we hung the carcass to drain
and went in to warm our bellies
with coffee, fried liver, and heart.

Poem copyright © 1984 Paul Corrigan. Reprinted from Waiting for the Spring Freshet, Blackberry Books, 1984, by permission of Paul Corrigan.