Monday, August 06, 2012

`My Own Diminished Day'

My wife, insomnia-plagued at 3 a.m., saw two opossums in the backyard, ghostly in the harsh beam of the security light. She mistook them at first for pale, slow-moving rats, and watched until they loped out of sight behind the garage. I made her promise to wake me if she sees them again, and a few days later I saw a dead one along the curb, torn apart, flattened and dried like opossum jerky. Among mammals, they seem without guile, unsuited to the world we’ve made. In Timothy Steele’s Didelphis Virginiana,” collected in Toward the Winter Solstice (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2006), the speaker sees a car-mangled opossum in a Los Angeles intersection, “ironically in the crosswalk.” (The title is the animal’s Latin name.) He fetches a shovel, scrapes up the remains and buries them in the garden:

“Many such creatures perish daily, nothing
In evolution having readied them
Against machinery: grief seems absurd.
Nature herself, ever pragmatic, is
Blithely indifferent to her child’s departure.” 

But the speaker is moved, after burial, to wish the opossum, “if opossums have Elysium,”  a fulfilling afterlife: “May it, restored, probe with its pointed snout / Through a warm, everlasting night whose gardens / Are redolent with earth mold.” A human destroyed the marsupial; a human wishes him well. When the satisfactions of decisive action are denied us, we’re left with ritual, which is better than nothing: 

“Meanwhile, I kneel and brush
Soil back into the grave, and, having tamped it,
Rise to resume my own diminished day.”

3 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

Opossums are the great deceivers of the animal kingdom. They feed off our world but walk through it as impossible aliens. Your wife’s vision of a rat is clear sight, but most can’t see that clearly at night. Opossums are practiced in the art of diversion, playing dead to signal the game has ended. They actually secrete a musk scent of death, one that apparently fooled Mr. Steele into his materialistic ritual for his own fear of death. Hurtful words, the opossum pretends, don’t harm, so the safety of the brush becomes a victory earned through strategy. Yet there is a cost in this hide and seek, for the opossum always runs from his true self, daring it only when he thinks no one is looking. The key for us when we encounter opossum medicine is to see through the darkness of illusion and understand we are all inseparable, interchangeable consciousnesses.

Shelley said...

It's odd, because I'm not the world's biggest animal-lover, but whenever I stop and look at one, I feel like my day has radically changed.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the opossum / armadillo / white-tail deer / raccoon / etc that it *can* be done!