Poem of the Week

Selection

Jeff Dolven

I have seen a deer with antlers tipped in gold,
and it was the most beautiful thing that I can imagine.
By daylight the antlers’ branches burned like tallow candles
burning in darkness. In darkness they burned like branching stars.

It could be that somewhere near there’s a river of running gold,
where the deer, stooping its head to drink, was gilt by chance.
But I have been looking for that river all my life,
and though the sun throws coins, they sink out of sight in the water.

You might think this was a dream, but no: here is the dream.
The deer stood constellated above me as I slept,
and said, with its golden tongue, I grow the gold from inside,
according to the laws of natural selection.

The gold draws hunters to me, drawn to me above all,
and meek as I am, I am the first and most readily martyred.
The rewards due to the martyr are greater than you can imagine,
and so I thrive, and so I am selected for.

I would have thought endurance in this world, I said,
is what selection means, and whatever comes afterward
cannot flow back to favor any living thing.
That shows what you know, said the deer, and I awoke.

Jeff Dolven is an editor at large at Cabinet magazine. He teaches poetry and poetics at Princeton University.
Originally published:
September 29, 2021

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