- Books, Literature, and Writing
after watching a squirrel groom her child
On a gray road a gray squirrel lies on his back,
one stiff leg hooked skyward, fluff of tail
wind-puffed, mocking the life gone from
the delicate intricacies of bone and capillary lace.
His wife waits in the oaks where they raced and mated.
She sits on a gray branch above the grove
where the children, hers and mine, play,
no one thinking of the day my child will car-clobber
one of hers and drive away. These losses we tolerate
as if we have no choices.
On the day when that first tire crushed raccoon form
and fur, did our town fathers call a meeting?
Did they ask was fast worth payment made in living flesh?
Or did small death go unheeded while speed
exceeded speed, more death needed (seems)
to count the cost? There at the hour when there was yet
time to move travel decision to forest life consideration,
what, if anything, did they discuss?
Explanation: Outside the window of a room at the top of the house—I was working there as a nanny—a mother squirrel washed and combed the hair of her half-grown child. The scene was so touchingly domestic that I could see the mother worrying about the safety of her children. I thought of the many animals, small and large, our cars kill, and I wondered what would have happened to the progress of cars and roads if the death of these animals had been unacceptable to us humans. What might we have done differently to co-exist in mutual safety with all our relations? What might we have invented to keep animals off the roads—or sweep them gently to the side as we passed? Maybe we would have built tunnels. Or might we have shelved the whole idea of car travel since it was so clearly dangerous to animals?
The poem is informal and unrhymed, through there are internal rhymes where the rhyming words are not both at the ends of lines as fluff and puffed, decision and consideration, and slant rhymes where words have some of the same sounds, echoing one another, like gone and bone. Bone suggests life and strength, destroyed by those who do not know how to put a squirrel or chipmunk back together. Fast and flesh are slant rhymes, as are stiff and fluff/puffed.
Poetry can be whimsical. I liked the music of the many –eed words in the second stanza. Alliteration, the repetition of sounds, also adds to the music: form, fur, fathers, fast, flesh; count, cost, consideration, disCuss.
One of the challenges of writing is to find just the right word or phrase to express the thought vividly. For this I often rely on images. I can see the gray squirrel dead on the road with his leg in the air, his inert tail moved by the wind. I can see the lace of his tiny bones and blood vessels. I hope the reader can, too.
Mostly, I simply want to engage the reader in the question asked by the poem and in imagining alternatives to road kill. Though I think the crows would not be pleased if we solved this one.