408: The Emperor's Deer

408: The Emperor's Deer

408: The Emperor's Deer

This week, we’ve chosen to highlight episodes that take up questions of social justice. The outrage and heartbreak brought on by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other Black citizens remind us that courageous dialogue about racial prejudice is critical to the survival of our culture. And we believe that poetry is a perfect vehicle for just such dialogue.

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The Emperor's Deer
by Kamilah Aisha Moon


Their noises make you think
they are crying or suffering.
They have learned to bow.
Even the fawns bow, centuries
of bowing
in their blood.

They are not considered wild.
Precious pests litter parks
with dung, take over the roads.
Sweet nuisance worth
saving, thinning these herds
is a last resort—once
a capital offense to spill
their endangered blood.

They are so used to humans, it is scary.


Our cries are heard as noise,
our suffering considered
natural. Native citizens,
we are not free
to roam or deemed sacred
like Japanese bowing deer protected
as messengers of the gods.
Nara, Japan is known for its temples,
shrines to peace.
America is known for its churches,
segregated Sundays.

This is not Nara, Japan.
Hunted, it is always
open season. The sight
of dark skin brings out the wild
in certain human breeds.
Bowing, hands up
or any other gesture of surrender
makes no difference.

They slay our young & leave them
in the streets, expect us to walk away
& wonder, after centuries
why we are not used to this—

grieving masses treated
like waste, filthy herds
thinned at will.


To be clear, this is America
& we are not deer
We are not deer
We are not dear

“The Emperor's Deer", from STARSHINE & CLAY by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Copyright © 2017 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Used by permission of Four Way Books.