The White Deer
by Justine Mara Andersen
Why, red cardinal, do you stare silently from the tangles,
Of dirt and roots that tell of how the mighty fall,
Are you silenced by what I have seen this morning,
Or is silence the only song that speaks of all we know?
Why eagle do you sit so low in the bowers and the branches,
So near that I now know the name and weight of your form,
So still that when you go I know the might of your flight,
I ask why do my feet remain solid in the sand and dust?
Why cardinal of the forest do you stare at me from the twigs,
As I contemplate all I am reading from the shady place,
That overlooks the lake reflecting every rising orange moon,
Are there secrets I will see only through your black eyes?
And wasn’t it just this morning as I crossed the lake,
Just this morning as I tended to the feeding of my body,
That I looked up and saw what I took for a wooly white goat,
But why a goat where the deer and turkeys come to feed?
My heart and every step did stop, and I forgot to breathe,
This was no goat before me, not standing with the timid doe,
This too was a doe, though luminous, white as the camphor,
The camphor I burn before the altar of my beloved Mahadev.
As it goes with wisdom, once I saw you for what you are,
You turned from me, white deer, and leapt into the forest,
Leaving nothing of you but a white ghost and many questions,
Leaving me with nothing in hand beyond what I had seen.
Today I saw the red cardinal from the roots of the fallen tree,
And I saw the great eagle perched amidst the bowers,
And I saw the silent cardinal stand forever in the twigs,
And I saw the white deer standing outside my forest room.
And today I read of the play of Parvati’s and Siva’s maya,
And though the words were wondrous and full of godly wisdom,
Their truth remains to me as elusive as the smoke of camphor,
Fleeting as the snow-white doe which I beheld but for a moment.
As with ecstasy, my wisdom vanishes like the smoke of incense,
As with wisdom the white deer only allowed me but a glimpse,
And a holy longing that one day I might run through the forest,
Alive in the camphor of His company, resolved fully in truth.