Beth Copeland: Three Poems
Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor
He Says I Remind Him of a Deer in Headlights
The deer in his poem is a stand-in for a woman
he lost, the one he loves and longs for, a doe
quietly grazing under a tree and disappearing
into blue shadows at dusk. I’m not that woman.
I’m not the vanishing deer or the tree or the fading
light or the lake that predictably becomes a mirror
as lakes do in poetry. I don’t fade like acid-washed
jeans or leave quietly. If you dump me, I’ll stomp
my boots and kick up dust. In his poem, the man walks
through snow or along the banks of a river, past trees
with alligator bark, a lonely man on a hero’s journey
back to the start, trying to recover what he lost.
A woman, a mountain, a cross.
Meanwhile, a man with a crossbow is hunting
in the woods behind my house. He’s not shooting
love arrows. He’s here to thin the herd, for blood.
In my poem, deer dart across roads and bound
up and down hills into blackberry briars, chickweed,
and bittersweet. They don’t wander off the page.
Where I live, hounds are starved down to their ribs
and men dressed in camouflage crouch in tree stands
to watch for eight-point bucks. Deer not caught in the rifle
scope are struck as pick-ups barrel around mountain curves.
In his poem, the hind is the woman he left behind.
In mine, the wounded hart in the woods is my heart.
He Yells at Me for 15 Minutes on the Phone
While I think about his mouth on mine. How he said, I wish I could say “I love you,” and I said, Please don’t. It was too soon. I knew it wasn’t true. How we walked with his dog on a path leading nowhere that morning. How her white fur shed like a light snowfall all over my red Turkish rug. How I used a broom to retrieve the fuzzy yellow tennis ball she rolled under the couch. How his mug left a muddy circle on the coffee table because he didn’t use the coaster. How his dog crate is still in my living room. Is he planning to come back?
I look out the window at the disappearing mountain at dusk. How he calls both his dog and me honey and sweetie. How sometimes when he talks to her, I think he’s talking to me. How I said, I love that dent above your lip, and he Googled the word for it—philtrum. How I thought the universe sent him to me because his name, in French, means The Mountain. How he said he loved my Mound of Venus, and I thought he said Mount Vesuvius. How I wrote a poem for him as a birthday gift. Is he ripping it into confetti?
He’s still yelling—I don’t give a fuck about your goddamned feelings! How I place the phone face-down on the kitchen counter and walk away. Of course, I could hang up, but I still hope he’ll say I’m sorry and come back. How I could say I’m sorry, but could I ever trust him now? How I open the door to a September sunset, a bleeding sky. How twilight smells of chrysanthemums and smoke. How I love the cooler weather. How someone somewhere is burning something—firewood, cardboard, love letters.
My dog Phoenix thinks I’m cheating on him.
When I return from your house where your dog—
a huge friendly pup who doesn’t know his size
or strength yet—jumped on me and almost
knocked me off my feet, Phoenix sniffs my hands,
jeans, boots, and then retreats to his crate
where he gives me his signature stink eye
from across the room as if to say, You bitch.
How could you? Of course, he’s still my baby,
my sweet, sometimes sour-faced, coonhound.
I love you, Phoenix, I declare, recalling
how jealous I felt when I saw photographs
of your ex on Facebook—younger, prettier,
with Farrah Fawcett hair, and how I felt
that green-eyed Godzilla creep up inside me
when you described how hard you fell for her.
I was like Icarus flying into the sun, you said.
Doomed to fall. So, if she was The Sun, Hot,
Golden, The Unattainable One, then what
am I? A black hole to get sucked into?
Jealousy is an ear worm that burrows into my brain,
humming an old familiar tune from childhood.
This sister is smarter, brilliant; that one’s beautiful
with her perfect oval face and 23-inch waist;
and the youngest one—a cute, spunky little tomboy—
is Daddy’s favorite. The self-defeating lyrics linger on
like the pale blue eyes in Lou Reed’s song from 1969.
I will never be first in your heart. Always second best.
Meanwhile, Phoenix stares a red-hot poker through my flesh.
Is he thinking about chasing a squirrel or raccoon? Maybe
I’ll tell him what I hope you’ll say to me: That other dog
almost knocked me to the floor, but he was nothing
compared to you. You’re The One. The Best of the Best.
My sweet, sometimes sour, baby. I love you more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth Copeland is the author of Blue Honey, 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize winner; Transcen-dental Telemarketer (BlazeVOX, 2012); and Traveling through Glass, 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award winner. Her chapbook Selfie with Cherry is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press. She owns Tiny Cabin, Big Ideas™, a retreat for writers in the Blue Ridge Mountains.