Follow the mentor across a street,
a jaywalk to rare steak and talk of pepper.
Crosswalk denied again upon return.
My hesitation about headlights,
but mentor goes. I do. Other side.
Then we hear a crack. Car halt.
Follow the curious family to
see the raised head of lying buck.
A teen parks his moped and embraces
the buck into standing. (A risk
taken with panicked tines. I feared.)
The deer, mouth dripping large
red strings, walks towards us,
startles and falls. A mother says,
“No, baby. It’s okay. You have to go
that way.” We primates.
My passenger later says, “I’m sure
he’ll be okay.” I say “internal injuries”
and don’t properly brake for a speed bump.
My grandfather mumbles in Portuguese
and every seventh word becomes
blood in his mouth.
A two-day bloat from intestinal tumor
pressures his lungs and esophagus.
I tell him to spit in the bag. Try to
act normally as his words turn red.
My imperfect Portuguese
presses against the ceiling.
We do not say that we do
not know if he will live.
My mother, needing something
to say, repeats to the nurse
that his dentures are out.
He is opened while everyone
in a house is wearing red.
I wait as a team loses.
My grandfather lives.
I am offered and eat my first corned beef.
The mentor listens at the driveway.
His colon will lead
to a bag for a while.
It leaks and infects.
My mother siphons
English into something
to which he can nod.
I forget the word for pillow.
What do you call this thing,
I ask. He keeps his eyes closed
and just says, ask correctly.
So I ask him to open his eyes.
After I close my trunk,
I see a doe cross
the street toward me. (At this
house, we feed them sometimes.)
This is guilt. I walk to the patio
and look back at her
until my knee hits rocking chair.
My human skin colors instantly.
The doe safely noses the lawn.
Vanessa Couto Johnson is the author of pungent dins concentric, her first full-length book (Tolsun Books, December 2018). “Try the yen relish,” a sixteen-page prose poem sequence, is in a first BoxSet from Oxidant | Engine. Foundry, Softblow, Thrush, Field, Blackbird, Cream City Review, and other journals have featured her poetry. She is the author of three chapbooks: speech rinse (Slope Editions’ 2016 Chapbook Contest winner); rotoscoping collage in Cork City (dancing girl press, 2016); and Life of Francis (Gambling the Aisle’s 2014 Chapbook Contest winner). She is currently a Lecturer at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA.
“Render Billow” was first published in Field #95 (Fall 2016).