Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon

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I love to have people come up to me and say, "You'll never believe what I saw this morning," and then go on to tell me. It's their delight that I like so much. Here's a poem in that vein by Kevin Cole, from the literary journal Third Wednesday. Cole lives in South Dakota. 

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon 

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways

The sight would not have been so startling:

A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

Perhaps they would not have worried as much

As I about the fragility of it all:

Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears

And beatific face just above the water.

At one point she hit upon a shoal

And appeared to walk upon a mantle,

The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.

I thought she might pause for a while to rest,

To gain some bearings, but instead she bound

Back in, mindful I suppose

Of the vulnerability of open water.

When she finally reached the island

And leapt into dark stands

Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,

I swear I almost fell down in prayer.

And now I long to bear witness of such things,

To tell someone in need the story

Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2015 by Kevin L Cole, 'Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon,' (Third Wednesday, Vol. VIII, No. 4, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Kevin L. Cole and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006

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