vertebrae staircase


There is a headless deer that walks the cliffs behind our house, he’s black and fast and burns like autumn. His antlers hover over coffined and empty air, his severed neck bends in the honey-light, blanched vertebrae forming a staircase that leads to nothing but the wind.

In the daylight he stays in the mountains, well away from us, hooves thunderclapping over the slate and lichen. But when the heavens begin to match his hide, he descends, careening down over rock and moss. He’s got no mouth, but sometimes I think I can hear a long marrow-woven moan leak from the absence between his neck and his horns, something like the keening of a siren trying to call its mind back from the waves.

When it gets dark, we stay away from the cliffs for fear he’ll grow desperate enough to take a human head just to have a place to think in. At times I am terrified by his stoic silhouette beyond the cliffsides, his body, gaunt and ebony against the limestone veins that pulse through the sediment.

At other times though, when the fear washes out, and I feel he must be looking at me with his nothing-eyes, I trace the place where my neck caresses into a brainstem. I have to wonder, would that robbed animal do better with my head than I can?

It’s easy to tell who has a skull- who deserves one however is another question entirely.

                 - C. Essington