The more I talk to people who’ve lost loved ones, the more apparent it becomes that—despite our beliefs about the afterlife—many of us watch for messages from our departed beloveds, signs that they not only continue to exist in some form, but also that they continue to love us. After my mother’s death, my husband Bruce called me to the window whenever he saw a cardinal—the bird Mom said visited her whenever she needed cheering. “Jude, your Mom’s here,” he’d call, and I’d come running to greet her. So it was only natural that I would hope that, after Bruce’s death, he would return to me, however briefly, via the natural world and its creatures.
Ever since the first snow
following your death
deer have been appearing
in our yard around the time
we’d return to the fire
to drink martinis.
When the first pair emerged
in their dusky coats, one gazed
so long into my eyes
I almost believed I’d entered
the dream I’ve been craving —
the one where you return
in a disguise I see right through.
In our early days I said you seemed deer-like
with your fawn-dark eyes, delicate wrists.
What about my study biceps?
you asked, flexing. Each night I enter sleep,
ears perked for your laughter
or for the soft crush of hooves on snow.
I drift back to the earliest days
of deer and human,
through hunger and wonder,
to the magic of sudden apparition
under the opal moon’s hypnosis.
Back to the ancient belief
that a deer’s luminous leap
could leave this world
and land in the next.
This afternoon when I found an antler
in the snow-dazed garden
I didn’t recognize it.
Rib-length, it was pronged
the way I pictured your bones
when pain pierced you from within.