by Jeff Burt
The coon froze on the fence as if sculpted,
a taxidermist’s art, not a flinch or tic of muscle,
not a wandering eye of inspection or fear.
I was no enemy, so moved, but fixed the coon remained,
and I saw two wet waifs on the bottom of the other side
of the fence waiting for cues to cross from their mother.
They could not stay still for long, their cells animate,
climbed, slipped, and climbed again,
never drawing a turn of neck nor hiss of disapproval.
I spoke, said time to get along in a low assured voice,
and the mother broke, the two young slow to master
the top of the fence, tripping, going backwards.
How exhausted she appeared, clean but haggard,
not frightened or anxious. One young fell,
could no longer climb, so the mother took the strong one
toward a trail behind my neighbor’s house,
looking back as if to orphan the weaker one.
I took a wide board saved for repairs
and made a ramp to the fence top and poked
the little one with the handle of a rake
until it used the ramp to make the top of the fence
and slip off to the other side to join mother and sib.
The mother turned at the corner of the house
and looked back at me and I wish to say
I saw acknowledgment, perhaps an animal thanks,
but it was weariness I saw. She was beat.
I remember this today as I disengage from work
serving a mother with children who escaped Syria
on a boat to a camp in Italy where she said she played
the part of shepherd for her kids, herding them here
and there, protecting them from human wolves,
entire days spent at times in lines for food
or haggling for a transport to where her uncle lived,
and I saw those eyes again, not thankful for my assistance,
but weary, fixed on a place in a landscape I could not envision,
a stare into nothingness, a blank.
Today my ramp was words, direction,
of assistance, grants, aid for her children,
a slow elevation of her vision to find
the point of escape, of rescue,
in the worn and faded future she beheld.
I remember my daughter eight months pregnant with Covid
walking the hills of Vermont for ramps,
wild allium, leeks, so her husband could make a pesto
that cannot be purchased, home-made,
and thus avoid human contact.
She converses internally with her child
at all hours, tired, ready to birth, yet
not, the fear of the virus, the apprehension,
the ignorance of not having a predictable outcome.
Her voice on video is monotone except for when she speaks
to her child in utero, when like music
it falls and rises, rises higher to an almost clarinet’s squeak,
or when she speaks of finding clusters of ramps,
fistfuls, the pearls of the soil taken from the clam of wet dirt.
so I study allium, study pesto, pull a few wild leek
from the corner of the yard by the same fence
the raccoon had almost lost her young,
and my daughter and I talk of harvesting ramps
for ten minutes, and this is all I can provide,
not absolve the fear of separation, of illness,
but a slight elevating lever from her distress to the joy
that the world could provide for her and her baby,
a bridge for all of the internal discussions she has
to take root again in the external world,
to which she will, as I have done, yield.
Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California with his wife. He has contributed previously to Red Wolf Journal, Williwaw Journal, Heartwood, and many other journals.