As a deer I stand and look into a river never-ending. There is forest. There are hooves. I stand and wait, antlers raised.
In these woods, my deer-brother is not coming back.
There was birth and now there is nothing. I was a deer and there was a deer-brother and running beside a river beside a forest inside of a heart and atop our heads, those antlers.
In these woods, where deer-brothers and the world are missing.
I woke in these woods and the message was death. A black dot on white paper. My brother handing it to me. My looking up. Antlers shadowed in light.
I built the sixth house because I could no longer wander these woods. I needed a house to rest in. I needed solace or understanding. In these woods, where I was left to die.
I built the sixth house by removing everything from everything. What was left was the house that I set foot in, where I laid down, where I curled my legs underneath, where I rested antlers. There was sun through windows, and only the sun and the ground and this house were left. Until the world came back one thing at a time and then everything was on top of this sixth house and I was crushed inside of it, my heart in a deer-body, and the always want to be someone else.
In these woods, I always wanted to be whatever was other than me.
My deer-brother, when we were still a herd and the riving was running and the woods were not lost, we were brothers. We were running.
Dear Brother, what does it mean that I was born how I was and you were not?
In this sixth house, before it crushed down from the weight of everything in the world, before I reburned it, there were so many men. All of the world was populated with men. The men came in through broken windows and from beneath the floor. They dug and crawled their way in. All these men, these non-deer, these non-brothers, these men came as bears and foxes and fish and birds. Not as men but as the forest stuffing throat-down, resounding in their without antlers, their openly wanton hearts. These men, they poured, and I was crushed before any of their weight came down on me.
Deer-brother, do remember when the world was still at ease?
I built and burned down this sixth house as I had the first and second and so on. I built this sixth house and men came in its windows as they had in my own deer-life, and I couldn’t grapple a way out.
My deer-brother’s daughters are in these trees. These nieces drop down death-blankets they have knitted with their girl-deer hands and it grows colder in these woods.
In these woods, where this river turns into revelations.
At the end of this sixth house is the end of me. I am moving more slowly. I still want to cover myself in honey and wait for the bears, but the air is stiff and they have maybe gone, and I am underneath so much that I struggle now just to invent living. In this sixth house, where the river runs through me.
Dear Woods, Where does your heart run?
There was no way to be different. I was a born a deer with a deer brother and I lived as a herd and the men they came. There was no house tall enough to build and burn when I was alive.
In these woods, where I am dying. In these woods where all is deer-lost.
The men came in without invitation, smothering and thick. Men streaming through windows. It was all men tromping through carefully crafted deer-lives, trouncing what was supposed to be. My deer brother said that the river was only a place to follow, that I could walk away from it, that the river would go on without me and that I could go on without it. But I could not. The river is where deer go, to take their lives alongside living, and there was no other way.
Deer-daughters knit me death-blankets, to put their uncle to rest, the man who they saw sad and lonely and secreted away. Their own deer-father with his antlers pointed ever higher to the sky.
In these woods, this sixth house, where my deer-eyes grow weary, and even the idea of writing back to you now, on a page white except for one blackened space, it is too much.
And in this sixth house, beneath the rubble of men and crushing, I light a fire. It starts deep in a deer-body, where the heart is, and a river runs out from it, full of flames and spittle, full of venom and spite for living the way I lived, for not admitting out loud that I was a deer in the way I was a deer.
I lit a fire and the house blazed, the men groaned a collective growing finish. The last semblance of life, what sounded like finally joy unmasked. And then here, in this sixth house, this moment of truth escaping my lungs, deer-antlers splintered and broken, men grasping, and the sixth house burning down.
How it is to be a deer in a world of men, in a world of brother-loss, in a place where the inside of a heart is a river running in the opposite direction of everything else. Where the magic trick is staying alive beneath the weight of everything on everything.
In these woods, where I scream truth to the trees, where I burn down.
J. A. Tyler is the author of A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed from Fugue State Press and No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear, co-authored with John Dermot Woods, forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press. His work has appeared with Black Warrior Review, Caketrain, Diagram, New York Tyrant, and others.