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Analysis of Poem "Deer Hit" by Jon Loomis

Updated on September 25, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Jon Loomis
Jon Loomis | Source

Jon Loomis and Deer Hit

Deer Hit is a two part poem that focuses on an early morning drunken drive undertaken by a teenager in his father's Fairlane car. Basically, he has to swerve to miss some deer on the road but ends up in a ditch, having hurt himself and one of the deer.

He's dazed and confused, lucky to be alive. But he picks up the badly injured deer and puts it on a back seat before driving on to the family home where he's greeted by a non too happy father.

Things quickly develop. The father acts humanely when he sees that the deer is beyond repair but the son's angst and near depressive reaction deepen the feeling that more mistakes are bound to follow wherever this teen goes.

Jon Loomis published Deer Hit in 2001 in the book The Pleasure Principle and it has become a popular choice for study because of its broad appeal, simple to follow language and immediacy.

The ongoing saga of cars versus wild animals carries with it much emotion. Millions of innocent creatures are killed each year on the roads and many human casualties result from vehicles having to avoid stray animals, especially in the dark.

  • Deer Hit brings this issue closer to home so to speak and creates a powerful human drama that goes well beyond a mere collision between a car and deer. The reader is taken into the heart and mind of the unfortunate teenager through the unusual perspective of the narrator/speaker.

There is no first person approach in this poem, which suggests that there is no real, true acknowledgement of responsibility by the teen? Surely a person who felt deeply for the deer and the trauma caused would start with the "I".

The speaker throws the reader a bit of a curved ball by using "You're" as the first word in the poem. You the reader have to put yourselves in the shoes of this drunken wagon-weaving teen and share the burden of pain inflicted, on both the animal (and the teen?).

A poem that inspires many ethical and topical questions, Deer Hit resonates with almost everyone who reads it simply because just about everyone knows what it feels like to be an awkward teenager, having created a mess out of a foolish mistake.

Deer Hit

You’re seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk,

swerving your father’s Fairlane wagon home


at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves

and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre


of teazle and grass. You don’t see the deer

till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,


small moons glowing. You crank the wheel,

stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt


into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass

in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin


and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured

by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car


still running, its lights angled up at the trees.

You get out. The deer lies on its side.


A doe, spinning itself around

in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,


back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—

again and again this terrible bleat.


You watch for a while. It tires, lies still.

And here’s what you do: pick the deer up


like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—

the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer


the wagon out of the ditch and head home,

night rushing in through the broken window,


headlight dangling, side-mirror gone.

Your nose throbs, something stabs


in your side. The deer breathing behind you,

shallow and fast. A stoplight, you’re almost home


and the deer scrambles to life, its long head

appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror


and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder

and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail


till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.


2

Your father’s waiting up, watching tv.

He’s had a few drinks and he’s angry.


Christ, he says, when you let yourself in.

It’s Night of the Living Dead. You tell him


some of what happened: the dark road,

the deer you couldn’t avoid. Outside, he circles


the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence.

Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,


drags the quivering deer out by a leg.

What can you tell him—you weren’t thinking,


you’d injured your head? You wanted to fix

what you’d broken—restore the beautiful body,


color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter?

The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.


Your father walks to the toolshed,

comes back lugging a concrete block.


Some things stay with you. Dumping the body

deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent


in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.

Analysis of Deer Hit

Jon Loomis's Deer Hit captures the moment when a teenager's world begins to unravel. Through vivid description and clevere use of narrative, the poet offers the reader a chance to fully experience the dilemma facing the drunken son.

So the speaker's stance from the off is to invite the reader right into the Fairlane wagon. Front seat. The teenager is saying, Look, I'm trying to explain to you exactly what happened to me that night so you can truly understand the situation. OK, I was a little drunk, I'll admit that, but.....

The reader might begin to feel a little sorry for the teen when he discovers that a family or herd of deer have strayed onto the road and caused him to swerve and brake and finaly end up in a ditch, lucky to be still breathing.

The reader might also start to think that, hey, what the heck was this drunken youth doing driving at 3am, in his father's car? The deer were doing what they do naturally, come out and forage for food. They don't see the road as a place of potential danger. It's up to the driver to drive with care if there are known to be wild animals about.

So there is an accident. Nature versus human, the old story, the old battle. Who hasn't seen the gruesome evidence at the side of the road, the resultant roadkill from the never ending war between vehicle and creature?

Only this time the reader is given the awful, graphic details. Fortunately, the young driver gets only cuts and bruises but one of the deer is badly injured. It wants to flee the scene but can only make pathetic circles with its front feet. And its crying out in pain.

Momentary compassion fills the teen, which the reader might admire, and when the deer is placed on the back seat, against its wild will, surely this young man, despite being inebriated, is worthy of praise?

The fact that the deer bites back only adds pressure on the reader to now show empathy with the human. Yes, the teen has needlessly broken the deer's hip or spine, but he's showing a noble side to his weak character by wanting to rescue and possibly heal the poor victim.

When the two reach home however, the situation takes a turn for the worse.

The teen's father has also been drinking, setting the family pattern perhaps; and he's been watching a zombie movie. Oh dear.

There's no word of greeting, no asking if the son is alright, no care shown for his flesh and blood, only a grumble about the state of the car and the deer.

It being the middle of the night quick action has to be taken. Perhaps the father is thinking that the deer should have been put out of its misery at the scene of the accident. If his thoughts are along these lines, he's not saying anything.

There is only the cold, blunt response. Concrete will do the job.

The deer is taken back to the woods where it was born and grew up. For the teenager there is only the negative feeling - he's some kind of gangster doing underhand work - a criminal who has defiled Nature.

He won't forget these feelings. But he also might remember the reaction of his father, who did not ask about his wellbeing. It's up to the teenager to rectify the faults, to restore the ruins, if he possibly can?

More Analysis of Deer Hit

Deer Hit is a two part poem written in unrhymed couplets, pairs of lines, except for the last lines in each part, which are single. In total there are 52 lines, 33 in the frst part, 19 in the second.

The first part of the poem deals with the accident, the reaction and the journey home; the second focuses on the teenage son's feelings and the father's response.

  • There is no set rhyme scheme so these are free verse couplets.
  • The meter (metre in British English) is mixed which tends to produce patchy rhythms and varied pace.
  • The syntax, the way the clauses and sentences are put together, reflects the nature of the situation - there are pauses, stop-starts, hesitation and panic. Even though the speaker is looking back in time the language brings the present starkly to the reader.
  • Note the use of simile: like dust, like a bride, like a ghost, like a gangster. Similes add interest and an extra visual element to the narrative.
  • Metaphor: eyeballs are small moons glowing.
  • Repetition: the use of you're and you reinforces the idea that the speaker wants the reader to understand the predicament and develop empathy for the protagonist.
  • Alliteration: father's Fairland/ dips-dark wood/till they turn their.

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