The opening poem of C. K. Williams’s The Singing, “The Doe” gives me everything I want from a first page: a welcoming brevity, indelible details (a “pivoting ear”), and a foreboding quiet charged with “incipient alarm.” As he does throughout the collection, Williams drops the reader in a uniquely intimate moment, standing with the troubled speaker before a paused doe. Watching the sun shine through the doe’s ear, “transforming to a color I’d only see in a photo of a child in a womb,” I feel lucky to be there, and luckier to have Williams guide me through life’s moments of “disquiet and dismay,” of pain and worry and flecks of happiness. What else could I want? And yet, once the deer bolts and I’ve had my fill after only fourteen lines, I eagerly turn the page, hungry for more.
Near dusk, near a path, near a brook,
we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay
for the suffering of someone I loved,
the doe in her always incipient alarm.
All that moved was her pivoting ear
the reddening sun shining through
transformed to a color I’d only seen
in a photo of a child in a womb.
Nothing else stirred, not a leaf,
not the air, but she startled and bolted
away from me into the crackling brush.
The part of my brain which sometimes
releases me from it fled with her, the rest,
in the rake of the late light, stayed.
Cote Smith grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas, and various Army bases around the country. He earned his MFA from the University of Kansas and his work has been featured in One Story, Crazyhorse, Third Coast, Five Chapters, and elsewhere. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas. Hurt People (FSG Originals, March 2016) is his first novel.