St. Sebastian's Executioner
A stag chews waist-high grass under an elm.
Its herd sleeps, each a bright, wet weed,
in a freshly rain-swept field turning in the wind,
flashing dark then bright like a soldier’s skin—
my bronze arm paling into my shoulder’s moon.
Wind brushes the stag and me. It is cool
and touched by mint. I draw the bowstring.
It jerks its large, brown head. A black bear
lumbers out of underbrush, a drunk, dizzy
and bright with honey. No. Bright with bees.
Like memory or apprehensions of the soul,
they anchor their needles. The bear stops.
Numb and swollen, swollen, too, with sweetness.
Is my soul like the bear? Or the stag and its cud?
Or the cud after being flushed through its body?
Or the bees at their wax and gold palace, guarding
a sweetness they cannot consume but will die for?
Like me, he was a soldier, bright clay-colored beard.
He was not young with his belly and puffy limbs.
He was not quiet any more than he was beautiful,
tethered and beaten, but I still cannot name what
he died for. His death was many years ago.
I am the bear trudging off—bees gone; herd moving,
unmoved—to whatever mean peace it knows
in the wet woods. Like the strain of a bowstring,
bow’s blowback, faith separated in me
as he looked at us, the crust of sky. Stag or criminal,
sign or saint, I will spend my life arrowing toward you.
Derrick Austin's poems have appeared in Vinyl, The Nervous Breakdown, Crab Orchard Review, storySouth, and other journals. He won the Editorial Prize Contest sponsored by Tidal Basin Review. He is pursuing an MFA in poetry at the University of Michigan.