Deer Skull on Giant Stump by Mark Penny

I’m locked and loaded on a night of curtailed sleep
Curtailed at starting end
The movie was too good to sleep through
What was it called?

That paragraph I wrote for English-with-Foreigner 1-15
Is in my head like the aftershock of a bad-apple head-on with a truck
It gongs and dongs with it
So I’ll tell it here

It was the story of a day
So many days ago I laze to count
Thirty-six years of days, I guess

Remember jamborees?
Great, gaudy gumball gatherings of boys
Smokey white clumps of fires and towers
Tied with the secret knots of forest lore?
I was there at one
I recall the tower
Four-legged Tripod of a sort
All ropes and raspy bark
Three meters high or so
I guess

We were uniformed
Not that that made us same
Or similar

We split in two
The hounds were hungry for the hares
I was a hare
Pell-melled it for the trees
Cedar, fur, hemlock, spruce
Tall and stern
As old as pyramids

I dove fear-legged through the ferns
They wiped my footprints from the wind

The woods were still
There might have been a call
Or two
Of some bird
Mostly the roots and boughs
Of all those giants
Squeezed and creaked
Through soil
In Raven’s breath

The rootbeds guided me
From vault to vault into the Crossing
Dome of sky
Columns of cedar, hemlock, spruce
An angry stump
A mound of scars
A Titan crouched down like a house
So still the forest was reclaiming it
Crumbly red gashes
Tower of Babel
Door of Hell

Something came from it
Like a wave
Rolled through my scrawny adolescent frame
Pushed my soul backward
Nearly tore
Spirit from heartbeat
And my heart beat loud
Ears rang with solitude
I was alone
No friend or father
God or foe
Me and this edifice of ire

I must endure this thing
I thought
Stand here with terror on my breath
Absorb the blasting of its hate
It hates me
Like a sting
Left by the fierce outrider of a hive
Its poison fills me
I must stand
Not kneel
In reverence
Or despair

I stood
The ripples lifted me
Onto my toetips
Stirred the trees
Ringed like a funeral guard

Side nearest me
There hung a knob
Shaped like the skull and jaw
Of a huge deer
Antlers all twisting from the brain
That was the blow
That felled my courage
This burial
Of tribe and Nature
Ripe with ritual
Rife with war
This was the meeting place of sky
And vengeful rivers underground
Blood flowed beneath me
I must leave

I left
Turned tail in panic
Sought the hounds

Mark Penny recently won the Admin Award in WIZ’s Spring Runoff for “I Miss That Time of Year I Know as Spring.” Find his other contributions to WIZ here. His poem “Shuddering” has been accepted for publication in Sunstone, and he regularly posts poems, essays, and short fiction at marsedenar. Mark lives in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, with his family.

6 thoughts on “Deer Skull on Giant Stump by Mark Penny”

  1. This one has a pleasing narrative patience: like a good long joke, but culminating in a thrill rather than a punchline.

    There are all kinds of possibilities for allusion here: the Horned King, Golgotha, Lord of the Flies, Beowulf. You’ve struck an archetype.

  2. Little boy. BIG NATURE.

    This poem recalls for me some of my own first, child-time, most mysterious, sudden, face-to-face encounters with the inexplicable in nature or some nature-human hybrid of a scene whose meaning I could only construe as imminent destruction reaching out its gigantic hand to crush me.

    You’ve captured the feeling well.

  3. Thanks, guys. And here I woke up this morning thinking

    No cars stop or pass.
    Barbed on a country fence the
    Lonely poem hangs.

    Just a little history, for those who like such things: First, this actually happened, as I assume you assume. Second, it happened twice. The narrative incident happened when I was about twelve. The filmy overlay happened when I was eighteen. The first was boy vs. Nature. The second was boy vs. Hell. Basically, I looked into a utility room and heard the Devil call my name. I ran then, too. The poem goes further, though, and says something about cultural displacement. I won’t spoil the fun by saying anything more.

  4. Reading this, I’m drawn into the world of boys. I have two boys now; I grew up with mostly girls, so I don’t understand the very different mindset of boyhood. These images–exploring and nature, being at once fascinated and frightened by dangers of imagination and reality–remind me of things my husband relates about his own childhood. Lord of the Flies is one of the things that came to mind for me, too.

  5. The scene where Simon bumps into the pig’s head? I never even thought of that till I read Jon’s list of possible allusions. But I’ll take it.

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