Personal Choice 9

Travelling through the Dark


Travelling through the dark I found a deer

dead on the edge of the Wilson River Road.

It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:

that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.


By glow of the tail light I stumbled back of the car

and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;

she had stiffened already, almost cold.

I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.


My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—

her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,

alive, still, never to be born.

Beside that mountain road I hesitated.


The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;

under the hood purred the steady engine.

I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;

around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.


I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,

then pushed her over the edge into the river.


William Stafford


William Stafford (1914 - 1993) was a much-published writer who grew up in America’s mid-West at the time of the Depression. He was a well-educated man who came relatively late to further education which was interrupted when the United States joined the Second World War. Stafford, though, was a dedicated pacifist and spent the war years working on special camps for conscientious objectors. Following this he completed his master’s degree and went on to publish some sixty-five books – a mixture of poetry and prose.


Some years ago, in the very late afternoon I hit a kangaroo that

leapt at my windscreen from the side of a country road. I stopped with a few stalled cars at my rear. The huge beast convulsed with panic and pain limped into the darkening forest. The incident shocked me, far more I think than a collision with another car. Firstly, I had no balm or help for an animal that may or may not have been seriously hurt. Secondly, I was in my car on a major country road, but I felt like a trespasser. The kangaroo was following another track out of a long store of antique afternoons that stretched back in a kind of forever that made a mockery of my presence here. William Stafford’s wonderful poem strikes for me a synchronicity with my own experience. And yes, before I left I could hear the wilderness listen.

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