Saturday, April 7, 2012

Another April Poem

Here's a double feature of poems about squirrels, as promised. Yes, I know, one would have done, but it seems squirrels play a larger part in my inner life than I'd imagined - there's actually a third one in progress - what can I say? There were a lot of squirrels where I grew up. I may even write more about these little guys in the future.

I realize as I look at these two efforts that they sort of correspond to Robert Lee Brewer's prompt for yesterday, which you can find at in that both have to do with hiding something - and of course we all hide things, all the time, in various ways.



The big black walnut tree in my grandparents’ front yard
was unclimbable past the first branching, at least for us,
my brother and my friends and me. The squirrels
found its stubborn verticality no impediment.

Grandma loved those nuts, gathered them from the ground
into the wheelbarrow, pushed that wheelbarrow
around back to the garage, loaded those nuts
into an old boiler where the squirrels couldn’t get them.

She’d wait for the husks to rot into thick black muck,
put on her rubber gloves and rub it off, the black,
hose off the nuts, spread them out on an old sheet,
and let them dry. The next day or week or month,

we’d crack them, in the kitchen, warmed by the wood stove.
She said black walnuts were superior to English,
more work to get at, but worth it. She told me how
gypsies stole children, dyed their skins with walnut husks.

(When I was bad my mother threatened to sell
me to the gypsies, so I got worse.
But she lied. There were no gypsies.
Or she just didn’t know where to find them.)

Finally the squirrels won. Either Grandpa
didn’t get the cover on right or time
or the squirrels’ teeth had worn a hole in the boiler.
The nuts were gone. Every last one.

They must have made off with them one at a time
Grandma said, shaking her head in wonder.
Persistent little bastards, Grandpa said.
In their tones I detected admiration.

That was the last year Grandma gathered walnuts.
Years later, when I moved to a house with two English
walnut trees in the yard, she congratulated me on my luck.
But, she reminded me, black walnuts were better.


Our town was known for its albino squirrels.
One lived in our neighborhood,
another in the gargantuan red maple
behind the Congregational church.
People from nearby towns drove by in autumn,
marveling at that tree, at its foliage
bleeding from palest rosé to claret,
straining for even the quickest sight of white  
flashing through that wine-dark sea of leaves.

A few more lived in the parks: the one by the river,
the one in the middle of town, with the library
where I told stories on Saturday mornings.
Every mile or half mile or so someone would say
oh yes, there’s one in my yard, or in my neighbor’s yard.

Even the worst of the worst boys with BB guns
seemed to leave them alone, our pride, our totem,
fat and healthy with acorns and walnuts,
quick muscles bunching, relaxing, flowing
under the pink skin under the white fur,
pink eyes darting, staring, thin pink fingers
sparsely furred, with quick sharp claws.

But there was one boy, as there always is,
and one day he rode his bike down our street
flying a white pennant. The next day
I followed the ditchbank gathering asparagus
and found what he’d discarded,
mutilated, tossed aside in the weeds,
and I did nothing, or rather, the only thing that I could do.
Look, I said to my child, pointing at something
across the road, and while she looked
I yanked more weeds to cover the small white corpse.
And we went on.

This, I think, is what we do so often.
We put away small gods that brought us joy,
and then go on.

--draft by Victoria Stefani

Given yesterday's poem you might think me morbid, but I assure you, I really don't spend all my time thinking about dead animals. I promise.


  1. Turn part II into a Halloween poem with the squirrel coming back for revenge then ask Patrick to illustrate it. =)-rita

    1. Ha! Ah, Rita, that would be so Patrick (and you, I think)! I'll keep that thought in mind, maybe for a really PG-13 kids' story ;-)