Chronic Care: “Broken Leg” by Keith Carter, Photograph (Toned Gelatin Silver Print 1998)

Lauri Clements Lambeth, 2014 BLR Poetry Prize Winner

The girl in black dress and tights stands behind the fawn,
hands clasped, their white blur forming almost
a heart. Her head’s nothing more than faceless smudge,
but she wants something. Her non-eyes plead through glass.

Before her lies the fawn in focus, head lifted
and tending to its right knee, the other foreleg tucked
beneath the shoulder. The right hind hock twists all askew—
unfolded to near arc, dragged long from the flank.

The leg’s twin toes have been scraping in dirt, splayed
wide. The fawn has attempted to rise and cannot. Tufts
erupt above the eyes, antlers in bud. The girl is close
enough to kick or stroke the animal; still she stands.

I’ll be the girl and you be the fawn, says the girl
to me. Okay, I’m the fawn. Now draw your leg in
so you look normal.  I can’t lift it, I tell her. Let me
whisper you a secret in your giant ear, she says.

Her whisper is nothing but smudge and thumbprint.
I pretend to listen. Back she goes to her place.
Why haven’t you moved your leg, she says. I can’t.
The girl says, then I will pray over you. She mumbles

a few words and waits. Leaves rustle. Are you
in pain, she asks. Do you want me to be, I say, as the fawn.
I don’t know yet, she says. Do you need some food?
Yes, please. I might die of starvation here, I say.

Let’s play some more first, she says. I rub my eye
against my fawn knee. What is wrong with you, she asks.
Apparently my leg is broken. All I know is I can’t stand
or move it. She says, let’s stand you up then.

I suggest some food might help. Here, she says,
offering a pile of rocks, are sugar cubes. Mmm.
The girl works her jaw as if chewing. I will lift you.
I will prop you against this gate and splint stakes

up your legs so you’ll stay. See, you look fine now.
Your mama’s sure to come find you. The fawn legs,
the three I’m using, tremble from the strain. I crumple.
Get up, deer. Come on, you’re not playing right, she says.

Then the girl says, I know: let’s play freeze. She skips
circles around me, says freeze, stops mid-skip,
knee lifted. Did you freeze, she asks. Well, here I am,
aren’t I? Yes and you look so nice, she says, just like that.

Don’t move. I want to be the girl this time, I say.
No, silly deer. Can’t you see I am always the girl?
Do you feel pain, I ask. I feel nothing in my hands
and face. I am indistinct but you shape me, she says.

Couldn’t I be you just once, to know again what it’s like
to stand and move, I ask the girl, but my fawn voice
is fading, and her voice is growing louder. Deer,
you know what I said: no. And now you must

play dead, she says. I tuck my head under my shoulder,
like a bird asleep. My tongue lolls to the side.
Good job, she says, and she claps her faded palms
and laughs hard. You’re dead but you can breathe

and your heart will beat forever. I hear my pulse
thick beneath antlers. Dead means very still, she says.
Beneath fawn ribs my lungs whoosh like bellows.
Your thoughts will leap and gallop and I cannot help you.

Will I move again, I ask. I can’t work my other hooves
now, I say to the girl. No, sorry. That’s the game,
deer, she says, but you have your heart and lungs, and—
‘thoughts,’ I know. Couldn’t I be the girl now, I ask.

I have angered her.  Distinct features—two eyes, a brow
and a mouth—sharpen for a moment: never.
I say, then I’ll be the air next, or the dirt, or leaves
rustling. That would be ridiculous, deer, says the girl.

I will be the air, you’ll see, and I will rise and lumber
and tilt over this churning gray space. I will move again,
I say, fawn voice faint. I won’t play with you. Eat your stones,
stupid deer, she says. I’ll fetch a blanket to cover you.