Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon by Kevin L. Cole

rusty r smith

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon
by Kevin L. Cole

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways
The sight would not have been so startling:
A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

Perhaps they would not have worried as much
As I about the fragility of it all:
Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears
And beatific face just above the water.

At one point she hit upon a shoal
And appeared to walk upon a mantle,
The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.

I thought she might pause for a while to rest,
To gain some bearings, but instead she bound
Back in, mindful I suppose
Of the vulnerability of open water.

When she finally reached the island
And leapt into dark stands
Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,
I swear I almost fell down in prayer.

And now I long to bear witness of such things,
To tell someone in need the story
Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Kevin L. Cole, “Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon,” (Third Wednesday, Vol. VIII, No. 4, 2015). The poem appears in the author’s collection Late Summer Plums (2016).

IMAGE: Crossing the River, digital photo art ©Rusty R. Smith, All Rights Reserved. Prints available at

Missouri_River_basin_map copy

NOTE: The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Rising in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river drains a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than 500,000 square miles, which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the world’s fourth longest river system. For over 12,000 years, people have depended on the Missouri River and its tributaries as a source of sustenance and transportation. Many groups of Native Americans populated the watershed, most leading a nomadic lifestyle dependent on bison herds that roamed the Great Plains. The first Europeans encountered the river in the late seventeenth century, and the region passed through Spanish and French hands before becoming part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.

IMAGE: Map of the Missouri River and its tributaries in North America. Made by Shannon1 using USGS and Natural Earth data.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin L. Cole grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at Texas A&M and a doctorate at Baylor. A professor of English at the University of Sioux Falls (South Dakota), he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and South Dakota Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Council of Independent Colleges. Cole’s first poetry collection, Late Summer Plums, was published in 2016. Poems in the collection include latitude and longitude coordinates—clues to the places that inspired each section. He says, “The book is definitely about place. I really wanted to emphasize the importance of place. I think in American culture we’re losing that more and more, whether that’s because of urbanization or the forces of technology. I also wanted to emphasize just how rich a very small piece of ground can be, and its potential for art—painting, composing music, or, in my case, writing poetry.” When not teaching or writing, he’s probably walking through the countryside looking for birds. Cole credits Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—the iconic 1962 book about the environmental dangers of pesticides—as inspiration for his work. “If I had to choose a book that’s been more influential on me than any other, it’s Silent Spring, he says. “Rachel Carson is the inspiration for a lot of what I do, but also thinking about conservation as a poetic act. A poem conserves language, and that’s what a conservationist does. They’re trying to conserve the land. There’s something sacred about it. I see the two as mutual forces in celebrating and sometimes lamenting the land.”

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