Stilt Walking the Upper Peninsula

By the time I thought to wake you, the stilt walker,
black rain pants billowing in the wind, was behind us.  
His lumbering figure receding in the rearview mirror, his
day-glow yellow knapsack disappearing into the west.

It felt like a good omen for the trip eastthis lanky boy,
grappling with gravity along the shoulder of a highway.
So much so, it made magical sense that a deer would stare
at me from the side view mirror, until the interior went dark and
a blur of brown passed over the windshield. The thud, then tear of
hoof etching furrows into the roof ringing in my earsOh,
please God, let it be dead.

You walked to where the deer lay and stood, as if in prayer,
a black silhouette back-lit by semis barreling through
the morning fog, before dragging it off the shoulder and rolling it
into the ditch.  

Sheets of rain slashed across the road, slowed us, rattled
our nerves, all the way to Montreal. We missed our exit. 
Took the next one. Relieved to be off the labyrinth of merging
lanes and ramps, we found our way to the center, to our shabby hotel.

If our room had been in the French hotel across the street, if
the sun had shown, if you had read the street map. If we had not
wandered for hours, arriving at the Marche Jean-Talon too early,
the Jardin Bonatique, too late. If the Mexican restaurant beneath
our room had closed at midnight. If rain had not followed us
to Vermont, chased us through New York, swept us back …

We drove in silence, the metronome of windshield wipers keeping
time with our thoughts. At night, in each anonymous motel,
we talked about the deer, as if it was a child we failed to protect. Maybe
it was only stunnedMaybe after we drove off, it struggled to its feet,
ran into the woods. “Maybe,” you said, “the deer was no more real
than that stilt-walking kid you say you saw.”

An hour out from Ludington, the rain stopped. Still,
I couldn’t shake the damp, stood on the deck watching
the ferry’s wake, wanting the sun’s heat. You came and stood
beside me, read from the Detroit Free Press, “Stilt-walker
says trek has shown him Michiganders at their best.” Neil Sauter,
a Blissfield resident, with mild cerebral palsy, completed
his 800-mile trek across Michigan.

Blissfield. Maybe we should go there some day.

 —Gillian Nevers, Madison, WI