By Emilie Zoey Baker

Edited by Sophie Cunningham


I’m always looking out for deer,
searching the gaps between the tall trees,
watching the road ahead,
sitting still in the clearings.
But they remain hidden.

Worse, they’re forbidden.
Stretching back their ballet-dancer ears,
alert to any approaches,
nibbling the undergrowth,
rubbing against the aromatic sassafras.
Each hair singled out by the early morning light,
long eyelashes the colour of ginger snaps.

There’s hundreds of them, invisible, criminal.
Phantoms, elusive as gold dust.

Maybe I’ll see one on a moon-soaked night,
on a winding road,
silent, poised and mystical.
The way Miyazaki sees a deer.
With flowers for eyes,
a gaze that will turn me stone.
A light step or two, a turn of the head,
the blessing of being ignored.
Like being painted into a picture
from a photograph
you didn’t know had been taken.

I understand their trespass, but I also understand my own.

They are storybook creatures – foxes too – made of pure delight.
They have homes, with fireplaces
and kitchen tables.
They tuck their fox children into bed.

Wet-nosed, they are deadly and innocent.

Such creatures call at night when distance and location is warped for us.
When shadow candlelight could count as an ancestor.
By day, sound is sharp and direct –
a king parrot whistles
and it’s a beacon to its perch on the low branch nearby.
When cockatoos wheel and screech,
they’re as boorish as drunks on a pub crawl.
How did they strike the early European arrivals
used to flitting and birdsong?
Nature here screamed in their faces.
So they brought their more genteel wildlife with them –
the storybook creatures,
fawns and cubs under their arms –
to make everywhere more like home.
Squinting across valleys with eyes stinging
they fantasised estates,
and across them on horseback well-groomed riders potting
compliant game.
And their quarry disappeared into the
backstreets and the forests, to be branded thieves and vandals.

I understand their damage, but I also understand my own.

In autumn the weather here gets psychedelic.
The sky turns melted saucepan and the sun lights every tree like butter
just before the toast.
Tiny leaves float through the air like ghosts on their way to a festival.

And the fog, nature’s magic trick,
hides whole hillsides, or hovers above creeks as a
mirrored twin.
Turns branches into antlers.

I hope I’ll see a deer in autumn.
There will be sky crystals and it will be cold.
All the mountain ashes will be expecting snowflakes,
and the ground will be wet and soft,
a nutritional blanket.
And he will flash in my torchlight,
a tawny brown coat glinting and shivering.
His eyes will shine like a cow’s
and I’ll be completely disarmed.
I will see geraniums blooming, a tiny sugar skull earring,
and glitter will ripple across the ground where his hooves touch.
The puffs of steam from his nose will spell words in the air I can read
but never again recall.
I’ll feel warm despite the air.
And I’ll say nothing.

Emilie Zoey Baker is an award-winning Australian poet and spoken-word performer