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Posted on Jul 9, 2013

The Opossum in the Road | Excerpt from Wild Life by Jamie K. Reaser

The Opossum in the Road | Excerpt from Wild Life by Jamie K. Reaser

A new excerpt from Wild Life: New and Selected Poems by Jamie K. Reaser. Fea­turing a fore­word by Edward E. Clark Jr.,  President of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Hiraeth Press will be donating $2.00/book to sup­port theWCV’s envi­ron­mental edu­ca­tion and wildlife med­i­cine pro­grams! Wild Life is now available in our bookstore, on Amazon, B&N and wherever books are sold. Jamie is author of such books as Note to Self: Poetry for Changing the World from the Inside Out and Sacred Reciprocity.




My father returned earlier than expected

from his Saturday afternoon motorcycle ride.


“There’s a mother ‘possum and babies

dead in the road,” he said.


“Do you want to see it?”


I was a tom boy of, perhaps, ten.


And, I wasn’t going to miss this.


I reached for the extra helmet,

shiny blue,

lined with thick black foam,

and snugged it down over my long pig tails.


Chin strap.


Off we went on his orange Honda.


Our destination was what would have

been considered a country road back then.


I remember the temperament

of the sun on my bare arms

and the way my body swayed,

left then right,

adjusting for the curves.


Decades later,


I can still kneel there.


And touch.


And be touched.


I couldn’t tell if she’d almost


or barely started;


It didn’t matter.


She lay on her right side.

The eyes were open, dull, void of spirit.


The mouth agape in a manner

suggesting a last hiss at oncoming rubber.

The legs protruded, outstretched and stiff.


Yes. She was dead. Not playing dead.


“What interesting feet,” I thought.


And I recalled the tracks I’d seen in books –

How they matched these funny

multi-directional pads and toes. All pink.


Under my fingers the long thick tail

felt dry and rather scaly – almost reptilian.


Years later I would learn

that opossum ancestors

hung out with dinosaurs.


I caressed her – this dead mother.


Greys and whites and blacks.

Hairs of different lengths

and stiffnesses

and softnesses;

The short dingy ones on her

long, narrow face

would never be cleaned of

mud spat and road debris.


And long whiskers: three sets.

Eye brow whiskers and cheek whiskers

and whiskers on either side

of a bloody, scraped up nose.


I wondered:


“What does this world

smell like

to an opossum?”


I wanted to be a ‘possum,

smelling the world.


Whiffff.  Whiffff.




I can’t remember what that

particular day smelled like to me;

My body has forgotten how

to be that kind of animal.


But I do remember the number eight.


There were eight babies,

miniatures of their mother,

all the size of my young hand.


And they hadn’t died instantly,

at least, not all of them.


I deducted this on that asphalt

in the glare of my late afternoon initiation:

They had crawled,

one tiny odd little foot at a time,

onto her sky-facing side and

slumped there, gripping their abandonment.

So short their lives.


Did I suddenly understand innocence?




I concluded that there

were some words that I would

have to grow into.




As a child, I knew the sacred

in ways that it can be hard for

an adult to remember.


It was simply, there.

And, here.


And thus, I had saved wonderment

of her mysterious underbelly pouch

for last.




Marsupium. Latin.


1. An external pouch or fold on the abdomen

of most female marsupials, containing the

mammary glands and in which the young continue

to develop after leaving the uterus.

2. A temporary egg pouch in various crustaceans and fish.


Pouch. Old English.


1. A small bag for carrying loose items in one’s pocket.

2. A sack or bag for carrying mail or diplomatic dispatches.

3. A leather bag or case for carrying ammunition.

4. A sealed container for packaging food.

5. Something resembling a bag in shape.

6. A saclike structure, such as the external abdominal pocket

in which female marsupials carry their young.


Sacred feminine. Origin Unknown.




My body knew what I suddenly understood.


But I didn’t have the language for it.




When I did stand up again,

it was to survey the road.


Up and down.

This way and that.


Had they tried to stop?


I wondered.


I wanted to know.


Had they tried to stop?


What would it have taken to stop?




We are the driver.


We are the opossum.


We are the future generations.


What will it take for us to stop?




Tonight I stopped what I’d been doing.


~ Which was writing this poem ~


And walked out the back door

to listen to the sounds of the night.


A young opossum was there,

right there,

on the other side

of the threshold,


awaiting me.

The woman I’ve become.


I wasn’t going to miss this.


So, we sat together for an hour.

In meditation.


Just the two of us


and every voice

in the darkness.


And you know what…


They were all asking the same question.


It was the very same question asked of me

more than thirty years ago

on a curvy country road

when my eyes first fell on that dead Mother.


Come to your knees.


They asked:


“What will it take for you to come to your knees?”


And, suddenly, I found a word.






Photo: Opossum © Jamie K. Reaser




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