Back to Issue Sixteen.

cri de coeur



At first, we thought the air compressor
had sprung its last gasket or a fan belt
was chewed to tatters. The pump was the iron lung
for the business, we joked, how it infused
the water with oxygen, kept our trout

belly-down and our algae python-green,
enviable, even. A fix, no doubt, that’d require
gobs of elbow grease, some keen mechanic
from North Platte, and way more cash
than was on hand. Imagine our relief

when we finally placed the madcap crash
and fluster, pinpointed the chilling shriek.
It wasn’t a hart, exactly, but a yearling
fawn who’d fallen into the empty tank
behind the hatchery building. Bleating

for dear life, stock-still in place
where he’d sank into six inches of mud
and bluegill carcasses, sharpening
his newfound voice on the whetstone
of June air. A cry shrill and unanswered,

if not unheard. No choice in the matter,
we concluded—we’d have to climb down
to lift him up, wade the muck and mire
knock-kneed and unbalanced to save
him before he starved. Between the snap

and buck of his gently coiled neck, I held him close
to my chest and felt his blood coursing wild.
When he leapt free of me and cleared the vile pit,
my stomach lifted with him. Who knows
where life’s logic comes from—the once-broke

machine, fixed without repair, the fawn, spotted
like light below a stand of pines, who spoke
only the wordless tongue of loss, the knotted
muscle in the chest that undoes itself.
The chest that must fall in order to rise.

J.P. Grasser‘s poems are forthcoming from AGNI and Linebreak. He lives in Salt Lake City, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Utah. Find more at

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