Witchy & Weird Poem of the Week: “Traveling through the dark” by William Stafford

Here the Moon-Birds will sacrifice to you, our readers, a weekly poem which has caught our eye(s)—poems which invoke, in whatever way, witchy-ness, spooky-ness, the sacred feminine, the mysterious, or the otherworldly. 


This week’s poem is one that has haunted me for a while: so I dug it up for you. William Stafford’s “Traveling through the dark”. The narrator of the poem is driving at night, in the pitch-dark of the fecund, atmospheric Oregon wilds when they (he) finds a deer dead by the road. The deer is a doe, and the doe is pregnant. The narrator exits their (his) car to roll it off the road, touches the doe’s belly, feels that it is still warm and that the fawn is alive “waiting, / alive, still, never to be born.” This makes them (him) hesitate. It’s forlorn, in a quiet way.

There’s a subtle action happening, and a moral puzzle softly presented in the poem: “the road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead,” which is returned to by the narrator’s reflection before rolling the doe in the canyon: “I though hard for a while–my only swerving–“. This move from the impersonal to the possessive is a gentle reveal. As is the move from describing the doe as first stiffening and almost cold, and then her belly as “warm” and containing life. Did the narrator really find the deer by the road, or did they (he) hit the deer? Kill the doe and her fawn? Are they (is he) culpable and denying that to themself (himself)? Or truly just stopping to do a good deed?

Either way, it ends with the doe and her fawn, tipped over the edge of the canyon into the river below.

I found the poem published in: The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Graywolf Press; 1998. It can be purchased at IndieBound or Amazon.


For further reading

The Poetry Foundation

Academy of American Poets

Wickedly Yours,

Baba Yaga

Follow me on Twitter: @abitunsettling


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