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Lee Ann Roripaugh

 

Albino Squirrel

 
Pumpkin after pumpkin crumples into the row
of front porches, lopsided faces like stroke
victims, and it is the time of the year when I avoid
their drooping gaze because I, too,
feel disconsolate – scooped out and overblown
with too much ripeness. Maple leaves palm
the wet sidewalk with red, splayed fingers
as if to keep the mold and damp from rising,
and my mind stretches taut as the lines of web
that spiders pluck and tap with bent, clever legs –
their nimble pizzicato a Morse code of desire
and fear. Last night a possum bared its teeth
to me and hissed from the corner of my back porch
where it crouched, all shiny tin-foil eyes
and terse, bald pink tail when I surprised
its meticulous inventory of the neighbors’ trash.
Each time I tried to sneak out to the dumpster,
ridiculous, armed with a broom in one hand,
a Big Bear bag full of cat poop in the other,
it was still there, crouching, nocturnal
and vigilant, hiss spiraling into a growl. I left it
and went to bed where my lover cocooned
in the brown tick and hum of the electric blanket,
tightly rolled and snug as an enchilada – oblivious
to my attempts to unwrap her, to the shift
and held-breath tension of the bed as I hunched
into my own, separate blanket and touched myself.
Delicate flickering to ease down the slick,
fragrant warmth until everything was satin, swollen
ripe fruit, and desire uncoiled its heavy braid
in dull, furtive pulse beats. Sometimes it seems
as if there is no warning, not even a slender
line of thread whose vibrations I can decode,
and I woke in the morning desiccated and numb,
tangled in bedclothes. On the way to the bus stop.
toward the certainty of another day measured
in teabags, timesheets, the empty bony click
and clatter of computer keys – a day I know
will fade as easily as regret – I am startled by
leaves hitting asphalt as they plummet from trees,
and I can’t help thinking this must be like the sound
of all those butterflies sprayed with insecticide
at the end of the summer exhibit, cascading
onto the conservatory floor – the soft, brittle rain
of color, motion suddenly stopped. I’ve carried
this peculiar sorrow in my heart as if it were
a sparrow in a cage, and on mornings like this
I can feel it swell its breast, puffing out feathers
against the chill. I see an albino squirrel weaving
its way through the rush-hour line of cars,
leaping onto the sidewalk to pause in front
of me – like white velvet, with sleek muscular
haunches, a glamorous plume of tail. Red,
jeweled eyes glittered like pomegranate seeds,
and he gripped an enormous acorn in his mouth
as if it were everything – carrying it toward
the promise of his well-lined nest, toward warmth
and sleep, the solitary ambrosia of oblivion.

 

[Previously appeared in the literary journal In the Grove, as well as Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004).]

 

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