Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Possum Poem


So Gerald Stern wrote a poem
about road kill, a poem
everybody seems to know,
but I wonder if everybody thinks
about it quite as often as I do.
His poem is about an opossum
with a hole in its back “and the wind
blowing through his hair,” dead
on the road. Stern says he will
“behave like a Jew” and touch
the opossum’s face, stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.

After dark, after I’ve locked
the front door for the night,
after the outside cat has retreated
to her cozy shelter, I hear her
food dish banging on the porch.
It is pushed, flipped, slid, and flipped again,
its stainless steel racket pulling me
to the front door knowing
what I’ll find.

I turn on the light and lean against
the glass to see an opossum with its nose
in the dish—eating, or pushing it in a last-ditch
effort to extract every morsel from this
civilized meal. Sometimes the animal
is intact, and sometimes I see
the one whose back has been scalped.

I once knew a man who raised
baby opossums rescued from the pouches
of road-killed mothers. He explained
that opossums seek out macadam
because it retains the day’s heat.
Opossums have cold feet.

My feet get cold, too. I go through
boxes of foot warmers every winter.
I’m lucky. I can slap them on my socks
and walk around the house without fear
that two tons of metal will run me down
in my kitchen. But there she is,
the possum mama, nourishing her babies,
trying to get comfortable
in the only way she knows how.
And along come those bright lights,
that big noise, but her movements
are slow, way too slow
for 300 bullying horsepower.

I don’t know where Gerald Stern lives,
or how many opossums he has seen
on the road. I live in the country,
and see them on almost a daily basis.
Maybe it’s because there’s rarely room
to pull over, or maybe it’s because I’m only
one-quarter Jewish, but I’ve never
moved a dead opossum out of further
harm’s way. I like that he did, though.

But for now I set out a clean food dish
on the porch every morning,
wash the possum bathtub
I used to call the water dish, and keep
the cat food coming. When I lean
against the glass and see the one
with the skinned back, I tell her I'm glad
she survived to enjoy these meals.
We each do what we can.

11 comments:

crystal said...

You were the person who told me about that poem when I had a post about a dead aquirrel in the road (I think).

I seem to get a lot of possums here too - I've buried two that have turned up dead in my yard.

I still remember how once my cat Data and I were looking out the window at night and saw a possum in the backyard - Data was amazed! From then on, when ever I wanted to get his attention, I would say "Data - is that a possum out there!?" and he would run and look out the window. So gullible :)

Helen said...

Again, you're my hero Susan...

Susan said...

Crystal, that's a cute story. My outside cat has reached some sort of detente with the opossums. Possibly she's just afraid of them, but if so, they seem to be the only thing she fears.

Helen, you remind me (as I have reminded myself more than once) that I really need to catch up on my friends' wonderful blogs.

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

This is beautiful. Brava! I wish I could write this well about our porcupines....

Susan said...

Thank you, Lali. I have no doubt that you can (or better).

Indigo Bunting said...

Very nice. Thank you.

Bridgett said...

I had one live in my basement for 6 months eating cat food and living the good life. Most beautiful possum that ever walked the earth. We sent him back to the park, though, once we caught him.

Mali said...

I'm going to be very unpopular, but possums are a major pest here in New Zealand, introduced from Australia and a serious threat to our native bush. They are not cute.

Susan said...

It never seems to work out when one species is introduced outside of its native habitat. When will people learn?

"I agree!" meowed Peachy, leaping in my lap as I write this. Peachy gives new meaning to "native habitat," living as she does about 50 feet from where she was born.

Anonymous said...

i required that, yet another wonderful read. thx, you might have made my day:)

angel said...

i love what you wrote susan. that is the only poem by gerald stern that has stayed in my heart thank-you
ellen