Daniel Neff’s poetry has appeared in Ninth Letter and Pittsburgh Poetry Review, among other publications. He is the winner of the Academy of American Poets Prize. His poem “Landscape with Doe Eating Where She Does Not Belong” is appears in ZYZZYVA No. 113. You can read the poem in its entirety below:
A garden is a landfill without the garbage. Garbage is consciousness
without the humans. If there are no humans and no consciousness, where
are we? The premise is flawed: gardens and landfills both have garbage,
but a difference in definition of terms. My garden is a landfill and yet
the only garbage is myself. (Let’s not talk about me, what about you
and your—and you eat your braised fallow round and juniper berries—
self?) This is not what happened. I am just a kaleidoscope. The world
is symmetry through stained glass. A doe stands on her head in the
shifting colors and runs away from you. The ones you killed and the
ones you loved.
You sit, wearing leather wingtips, and play the accordion. I place cayenne
pepper on the bib lettuce so the deer won’t eat it all. I weed the garden
and remove all the onions because nobody needs to cry. My knees
are different shades because I’m kneeling in the dirt. You say, dirt is
earth. And the Earth says, I am dirt. Which is correct? And which am
I crying into? Cutting onions is not the only way to shed tears. I hide
my face from you.
If a pane of a kaleidoscope’s stained glass is broken, who’s to say that I’m
not just looking into a mirror? At dinner, I cooked the fallow doe in a dry
sangiovese red wine for you. Speaking in slurred words, the wine told
me, I have to save your life, but I don’t like the air in here. Is a corkscrew
not a little like a guillotine? Of course not, you say. The guillotine cut
heads off, but it never pulled heads out. I burnt the parmesan asparagus.
The candlelight hurt my eyes. I had to put glasses on, but the colors
just kept spinning and condensing. You leaned over to kiss my mouth,
but I couldn’t see anything but the candle fire. It doesn’t mean you’ve
avoided anything. My lips still exist without your touch. That’s ridiculous.
Artifacts exist only with acknowledgement from the audience.
You called my garden a landfill. The fallow doe is silent and drinks
from the river. You want me to kill her. I am silent and cut asparagus
for dinner. In my basket I separate the radishes from the radicchio, but
basil is everywhere. Basil doesn’t grow in landfills, but it does flavor
venison. I wear it behind my ears. When I stand to look at the doe, I’m
not sure I’m not conscious. The doe says I am abstract and I am garbage.
You shot her. This is logical.