Eudora and the Deer

It lay in the box alongside a signed first edition of Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter: six inches of deer bone, gnawed into something fantastic by the sharp incursions of squirrel teeth.

For anyone else, this relic might have seemed an odd gift to send in the mail. But I have long been fascinated with the continuation of our becoming after breath leaves the body, and I keep a photo essay of things undone. I document the metamorphosis from what was to what is revealing itself. Halibut spines, sun-bleached barnacles, raccoon skulls, the crystalline spines of the stranded sea star. My friend had sent me two precious treasures to lighten the deepening fog of our long shared isolation. It was hard to say which was more valuable, the composition or the decomposition.

Art, after all, isn’t an object or a sheet of music or whatever stands in a frame. Art is the artist, what she intends, what she produces, and finally, most importantly, the innumerable intersections she forms with everyone she encounters. The mysterious and inalienable value of art lies entirely in its quality as mosaic. Whatever is whole and unshattered speaks in only one voice, to one person, in one time. Work that upon every encounter is broken into new shards, new jagged and brilliant pieces that still make up a single and unmistakable image through which all light is transformed as it passes—this is art. This is eternity.

The Optimist’s Daughter sits at my left hand as I write, but the deer bone is before me in the window where I watch for moose and bear and, more likely, finches and snowshoe hares. My eyes travel the totem carved by those small teeth. Here in an old death, two distant friends create a quiet masterpiece. This is art enough for me.

CASSONDRA WINDWALKER is a poet, essayist, and novelist presently writing full-time from the southern Alaskan coast. Her novels and full-length poetry collections are available online and in bookstores.