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The Fawn Abyss

Adam Tavel

ISBN: 978-1-910669-35-8

Page Count: 74

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cover Artwork: Deer in the Thicket by Madara Mason

About this Book

The Fawn Abyss explores the emotionally fraught terrain of family, belonging, and injustice against the pastoral backdrop of the Delmarva Peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay. Steeped in memory, Tavel’s poems conjure a cast of cultural ghosts—from Abraham Lincoln to Sam Cooke—in their documentary investigations of the past, including the poet’s own youth. These retrospections, buoyed by wry wit and cinematic detail, sustain the collection and anchor it in our own whiplash age. Throughout, Tavel’s poetic range, keen ear, and tenacious heart find full expression. Lyrical, mythic, and unflinching, The Fawn Abyss grieves the seemingly inevitable destruction of innocence while affirming the promise of renewal, transporting readers from “the river’s glinting bone-cage” to a sonogram’s “bean-body and nubbin hands” reaching toward a brighter fate.

“In the deft and moving poems of The Fawn Abyss, Adam Tavel explores, with recurrent wisdom and wit, the fall from inexperience into something more satisfyingly complex than mere sobriety, abjection, or distrust. These are poems whose elements of serious play relish the archival details, the incarnational hunger and mystique of the narrative, while honoring the imaginative and speculative power to make all things new. Not that suffering alone redeems us, and yet the deer corpse in the field is full of bees, resilient, resplendent, compelled. To read these poems is to kneel and listen.”      Bruce Bond

“Adam Tavel’s vision of life is so generous and large that I am taller having read this book, a full foot above my given height, which means I am able to see just a bit more of the everything he would have me see.”        Bob Hicok

“Adam Tavel’s The Fawn Abyss refuses easy resolutions even as it communicates directly and honestly—its honesty can be measured by the doggedness of its refusals. Tavel makes a poetry that at first seems to be a poetry of things seen well, which is gift enough, but upon closer inspection reveals itself to be a deeply empathetic poetry of things felt into, so that the fawn abyss of the title is, on the one hand, a big hole in a fawn, and, on the other hand, an abyss opened in the world. And to see that it is also an abyss and not just a hole is a great and honest refusal, and a gift both possessed and given.”        Shane McCrae

“Adam Tavel’s poems are sonorous, luxurious, and inclusive. While often grounded in a particular landscape, these poems move across cultures, centuries, and even light-years. Taken together, The Fawn Abyss forms a rich tapestry in which personal experience of the ecstatic is tempered by the realities of our shared history. Like the great Hellenic poet C. P. Cavafy, these poems look to wed the historic to the personal. This is a daring collection.”    Sue William Silverman

Author Biography

Adam Tavel is the author of Plash & Levitation (University of Alaska Press, 2015), winner of the Permafrost Book Prize in Poetry, and the chapbook Red Flag Up (Kattywompus, 2013). Winner of the 2010 Robert Frost Award from the Robert Frost Foundation, Tavel’s poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Crazyhorse, Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Sycamore Review, West Branch, and The Journal, among many others. He is a professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the reviews editor for Plume. You can find him online at

Read a sample from this book

Here, driven by habit, farmhands 
shed their ragged overalls and spark 
Zippos before slingshotting pickups
from fields of rutted ochre down 
Route 50, its marsh-licked asphalt 
maculate with cherrybark oaks, 
mossy rust on guardrails, spadefoots 
baptized in the mud 
of the Nanticoke. This is 

Delmarva, where fences rot 
like driftwood, where strips 
of shriveled seaweed, the sea’s intestines, 
sidewind past the feet of children
slathered sun-screen white
pitching shells at the bloated bellies
of Assateague ponies
to the soundtrack of mosquitoes 
whirring their zealous frenzy, 

where jade breakers suicide endlessly 
to foam. Where the green-glow dial 
blares WCTG’s three chord overture 
so loud the speakers’ bass-thud 
feels like the flat palm of God 
shaking the dozed 
newborn of the soul awake.
Why not waste night by the fistful

among the boardwalk’s dank arcades, 
slamming your hips to tilt
the silver ball a breath
closer to the machine’s flippers
while daughters of Jersey tourists 
stroll the pitted planks beyond 
the stench of smoke and sweat?

For me, such nights are one 
long violet stretch that ends
with a fat gull substitute for a rooster 
squawking in the bulrush. For me
it’s time to try a line
in this good river, my labrador
nosing tadpoles among the reeds. For us 
no difference between empty Coors or shad 
in the cooler—hawks over the near barn, 
over its brown crop wilting. 

The Apostle’s Wife

Tongues of flame, the secreted tents, slinking
mute-dune deserts like coyotes we wept
to know again the taste of cony stew.
My fingers sought a daughter’s locks to braid
as mine thinned to silver beneath my veil.
Bishop of a rowboat, he oared an ocean
to smite Myra’s doubt with a gunnysack
of splints and cloudberry. It was a land
weary from gumming a Roman bridle.

Beside his moonlit cot he chapped his knees.
The jailor traced my scars. So freed, my love
repaid my love with stones. I wait upon
his name among the news of martyrs here,
an orphanage, balming the blind girl’s sores.

The Nineteen Nineties (Abridged)

There was the usual shortage of saints. 
There was much discussion of slimming
down. After growing in brand & variety 

peanut butter earned its own shelf. 
Teens made a mockery of flannel 
living secure in the faith that they 

were the first to believe in nothing. 
Except at Christmas, everyone gave up
on letters. Beautiful strays were fed 

& put to death. No one wanted to cross
the bridge. No one trusted water
from the tap. Sleet warmed its end

on clay roofs of gophers.
Like small grains of rice 
satellites left Earth beaming back

sitcoms. All our wars 
were small & in their smallness seemed 
for a time complete. 

All Poems Copyright © Adam Tavel 2017

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