The Deer

The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,

the ones that stepped between the trees

on pound-coin-coloured hooves,

I’d bring them up each teatime in the holidays

and they were brighter every time I did;

more supple than the otters we waited for

at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher

that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.

Five years on, in that same house, I rose

for water in the middle of the night and watched

my mother at the window, looking out

to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.

From where she stood, I saw them stealing

through the pines and they must have been closer

than before, because I had no memory

of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur,

their eyes, like hers, that flickered back

towards whatever followed them.

— Helen Mort