She’s sleepwalking again,
my nine-year-old daughter,
who shares the bedroom
with her sister down the hall.
She’s kicked off the covers
and wandered downstairs,
somnambulant, her bare feet
moving as though in a dream
across the kitchen’s linoleum
floor to the back of the house.
The porch door smacks shut—
a gunshot—and she is gone.
For a time, I watch her from
the open bedroom window.
Her diaphanous nightgown
absorbs August moonlight.
She steps slowly, a pale flame
floating across the back field,
the wiregrass up to her knees,
avoiding a copse of redbuds,
skirting shrubs and stones.
When her small figure succumbs
to shadow at the edge of the trees,
I put on my bathrobe and follow.
At first, she is lost to me.
I break into a delirious run,
scratched on my cheek
by a redbud branch.
Reaching the tree line,
I see her standing still,
a luminous cattail
She hovers above a sleeping fawn,
the warm bundle curled at her feet.
I contemplate the white spots
scattered on fur, thinking, velvet stars.
But when I place a hand
on my daughter’s shoulder
I see blood flowing fresh
from the doe’s abdomen;
red entrails slipping out,
pooling on pine needles.
Stepping closer, I remember a moment
earlier that evening: a jar of preserves
spilled carelessly on the kitchen’s stone counter,
the soft dishtowel soaking scarlet in my hand.
At the edge of the creek, a second doe
watches us with opaque, joyless eyes.
My daughter puts her finger to her lips;
the doe tenses, blinks, and bolts away.
I lift my daughter and carry her carefully
home, her head buried in my shoulder,
blades of grass clinging to my bare feet.
My daughters' room:
holding her in weak arms, poised
to lay her on top bedcovers,
I notice her sister’s empty bed,
neatly made, the blankets smooth
and tight across the mattress.
An anemic moth bangs
against the window pane.
The light flicks on and suddenly
I am awake, remembering all of it:
the dry diagnosis, the slow whir
of hospital machines, the smell
of old flowers, and somewhere
in my daughter’s stomach,
the cruel mathematics
of cells metastasizing.
My wife stands in the doorway,
her hand on the light switch.
My arms are empty. I gaze
down and see our daughter
nestled under covers,
breathing softly, asleep.
I see the pale white skin of my clean bare feet.
You’re sleepwalking again, my wife says.
She touches my unsullied cheek, hooks her
fingers through mine, and shuffles me down
the hall to bed. Head sinking into the pillow,
I gaze out the open bedroom window and weep.
The moonless sky cradles its constellations:
bright grains of salt scattered on soapstone;
my hand trembles, unable to wipe them away.