If the stag had not shot from his sentinel
post high on the beech-lined ridge and split
the cinder trail just one pace in front of you,
tossing his head in full careen so we would
see every point of his eight-tined rack before
he disappeared into the echoing ravine,
we would have passed through that October
day as heedless as every buck during the rut;
you would not have stopped short to ask if we
noticed how near and fast unforeseen danger
had dared to make such a casual pass before us;
and we would not have moved so attentively
into the hull of another man’s timber;
I would never have heard your daughter
say “these look just like Papa’s woods”
when we approached the place where
a wide creek meandered on past itself;
nor, after I forded first at the narrows and
looked back as you spread your feet to keep
everything in balance and reached
to guide her over the felled trunk,
would I have chanced to see in that flash,
as white-hot as the flame tail of the fleeing buck,
an afterimage of our father and me
and how closely the generations follow
when they encounter unfamiliar waters.

— first appeared in GW Review


Play the podcast to hear Peggy read this poem and “Great Blue in the Cemetery.”