For the Swamp King of Kalispell†

by Shane Seely

When they found your ragged carcass by the stream,
torn by bears and ravens till the ribcage
glistened, even the skull picked clean—just the hide left,
flung like a fatty coat across the shoulders—we felt
all the predictable emotions: sadness
at your majesty cut down, revulsion at death’s
indignity, wonder—a few said, and the rest
agreed—that you had lived at all, a beast
so broad of back and thick of tine, you seemed
of an age before these valleys
grew heavy with our homes. In your honor, hunters shot
a round into the dirt. The women cried
in the center of the town. Remember the Swamp King,
the mayor said, and we all swore we would.

That first night, though, men had killed their headlights
and idled to a stop above the stream,
thumbing their bone saws,
hoping the field mice had left your antlers.
At least one little boy mimed shooting you,
made a rifle noise while sighting down his index finger.
And each of us, in some dark hollow of his heart,
was relieved to see you lying there—you, who dared
to live beyond us, to rise up like a trackless mountain
from the swamp and leap the boundaries of our apprehension—
you, all tattered skin and mouse-gnawn bone, lying there
in a form that we could master.

† The Swamp King was the nickname given by locals to a huge mule deer that lived (and died) outside Kalispell, Montana.

Shane Seely’s first book of poems, The Snowbound House, won the 2008 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published by Anhinga Press in November 2009. Shane is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches composition and creative writing and acts as Assistant Director of the university’s expository writing program.