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In my words, July 1 – 7

While I was staying with Dad at the end of June, on June 26th to be exact, the day before his birthday, a doe was hit on the road across from his house during the night although I didn’t hear it nor did Dad who doesn’t sleep with his hearing aid in. When someone swerves to miss or hits a deer, you hear the screeching, the collision followed hopefully by the dazed driver swearing so I was surprised to see the dead deer there as I drank my morning coffee watching the swallows swoop and play for insects as the morning sun spread itself like a blossomed picnic blanket over the field.

Route 322, the road that goes by Dad’s house was built during World War II to connect the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Erie. When I was a kid, it was bucolic meandering up from Lancaster Valley following the South Mountain’s ups and downs. Our front yard was enclosed by a white picket fence edged with forsythia that kept the road pretty much from sight when a car or two or three passed by every half hour. In the early 1960s, the state changed all that by tearing away our yard’s quietude to widen the highway, knocking down the fence and wisteria, bulldozing a path straight through the mountain flattened to accommodate the future population whizzing past Dad’s house on their way to Lancaster, Harrisburg and Hershey every other second now. It’s quieter in my apartment in New York than at Dad’s where you can hear those trucks grinding, working their way up the mountain thundering and rumbling to full volume a mile away.

The doe was lying in the gravel with her head almost on the road. It was only a matter of time before a truck ran over it; that wouldn’t be a pretty sight for the party tomorrow, and by then the deer would be beginning to bloat and smell, not a whiff that I wanted accompanying my baked beans and Sloppy Joes so I focused and in four phone calls got the state of Pennsylvania to come and take the carcass away. They came in half an hour. The next day, however, my brother said he smelled something dead. I didn’t but explained to him about the doe. Scott said perhaps a fawn was also hit, but had been thrown further back into the woods. The next day I smelled it too. Dad sniffing said the stench reminded him of the Japs on Eniwetok. Eniwetok is an island in the Pacific the Marines took in 1944 with my eighteen year old father following closely after, an atoll two miles long and three quarters of a mile wide with eight hundred dead Japanese soldiers piled into piles under the hot sun. When I smelled the air, I smelled a dead deer, but Dad smelled something different. I would almost never say “the Japs,” but Dad was trained to hate them and went to the Pacific specifically to kill them, which he did helping to build the airstrip on Eniwetok where the planes flew off to bomb Truk, and then the airstrip on Tinian where they flew off to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki; so Dad did his killing, and when he says “the Japs” I go easy on him especially in the context of the smell.

When is and when isn’t it racism? At Dad’s when I want to get on the Internet, I drive to the nearest McDonald’s in a shopping mall about six miles away, buy a coffee and use the Wi-Fi. One morning I overheard two retired couples talking at a table, two men and two women, a little older, grayer than me, but similar (I am not thin at the moment); one of the guys had a cane. One couple had seen a house they wanted to buy, but it was too expensive; they were going to meet with the owner later. “Maybe,” the man said, “I can Jew him down.” I hadn’t heard that expression in a longtime. Spoken with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent it sounds like this: “May pay I ken Chew hym dahhn,” the accent drawn out like the Southern, but to most ears lacking the South’s hospitality and charm. I have grown to love the accent; it’s my roots after all, and turned to look at the couples smiling at each other: what had been said was amusing them, a sentiment they shared, a joke they all agreed on.

When I was a kid, where I lived, when people bartered for a bargain, they often said, “I Jewed him down,” the proper noun, Jew, become a verb, the Christian replacing himself with a Jew, who did it, not him, the Christian. This scapegoating held true for nigger-fixing too, which means to fix something as cheaply and as lazily as you possibly can like wrapping a rag around a leaking pipe and leaving it at that. When I was a kid, the people who nigger-fixed things were always white and so were the nigger rich and those you found in the woodpile.

My brother was right about the smell. There was another deer that had been hit and thrown further back, but not a fawn; it was another doe that might have walked dazed and died falling where it lay naturally crawling with insects all over it excitedly hurrying as it filled with gases stretching its legs out like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. I held my breath and thought, it wouldn’t be bad to end like this, dragged out into the woods by friends and just left. Let the circling buzzards descend. In a few days the smell was gone.

I am not in Pennsylvania, I am in New York in a garden smelling flowers, Sunday morning, editing and writing what you are reading. I can see the willows knocked down by two hurricanes in two years are growing back, sprouting leaves. A mother plays Frisbee with her two children, a boy and a girl, some people practice Yoga, a man and woman sitting together under the shade of a recovering willow share the Sunday Times, a young man with long hair and a beard tells someone on his cellphone that he is thinking about getting into a Masters program at NYU, four other young adults are talking in a shady part of the amphitheater, the sun is shining bright, it’s going to be hot, my t-shirt is drenched with sweat sitting in the back away from everyone in a chair rewriting. I haven’t been in La Plaza like this just using it in years, and it comes to my mind that nobody here has any idea who I am, that I was instrumental in saving this park we are all using; in fact, if it wasn’t for me who didn’t drop the ball at a specific point in time, there’d be a federally subsidized building here now and not this park with all of us in it: the world would be different, but it is good, it is best nobody knows and I returned quietly to my work.

A summer sonnet.

Deer by Akram

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