First published in Modern Haiku XXV:1, Winter–Spring 1994, page 47.
The tense wind buffets the valley, scrapes between the cliffs at the narrow end, rattles the dry grass between granite boulders around me. Alone, I step along the trail, water bottle thumping against my hip. The coolness of a passing cloud brings a mottled snowshoe hare darting out across the trail. In the sun’s heat that grows against my back again, I bend to inspect the soil.
red dust still setting . . .
my finger blurs
the hare’s faint track
I raise my head at the trill of a junco, and walk between yarrow and the occasional paintbrush toward the vague sound of a creek, tripping and curling through thinly spaced trees. The creek runs low but fills an eddy, where a short brown twig swirls and turns before slipping through small stones. Wedged between a rock and the rough bark of a weathered ponderosa just beyond the bubbling stream, the sagging carcass of a deer lies where it fell. Its yellowed rack twisted awkwardly, the mule deer’s tail is too decayed to catch the dry wind. I reach out and then stop myself from touching the tail’s black tip. A fly buzzes from under the dirt-crusted fur. In a sudden hot gust, I step around to the head of the deer. Hollow bird-pecked eye sockets stare into the still dust at the trunk of the tree.
in the mule deer’s taut hide
a bullet hole
I draw a sharp breath. The smell makes me stiffen and step back, pulling my hands from my pockets. I leap back across the creek and tread the white grasses back to the trail. I quicken my stride upward toward the distant pass. Desert plume yellows the trail edge. In the morning I drive for home. But for now I will follow the tracks of the hare.
fading sunset . . .
of the snowshoe hare