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.
THE OPOSSUM IN THE ROAD
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,
lined with thick black foam,
and snugged it down over my long pig tails.
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.
I can still kneel there.
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
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.
“What does this world
to an opossum?”
I wanted to be a ‘possum,
smelling the world.
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 thus, I had saved wonderment
of her mysterious underbelly pouch
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 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,
on the other side
of the threshold,
The woman I’ve become.
I wasn’t going to miss this.
So, we sat together for an hour.
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.
“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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