Possum Portrait

A reluctant subject, anxious of pausing

her foraging for some tasty insects to snack on,

a female Virginia opossum sniffs once

to proof the absence of threat, and then

sits up in the front yard, her ghost-white

face glowing in the tree-filtered lamplight

seeping weakly into the pre-dawn darkness,

the same face that peered from Algonquin woods,

the same black eyes that scientists say

watched dinosaurs live and die, that

saw past the dinosaurs and Algonquins,

past the settlers and builders of cities.

 

Although her kind have suffered their losses,

to coyotes and dogs, to redneck hunters

with shotguns, to the noisy machines

hurtling with ungodly speed down streets

and highways; the species has survived,

virtually unchanged, and death to her

is only a game that she has often played

and so far won. She might climb a tree

to survey her options, might enjoy

a starlight swim if the opportunity

presents itself, but she will not run away

from death; she will walk, slowly,

at her own pace, taking another

solitary journey, and if death chooses

to follow her, that is the business of death,

not of possums, to whom death is only

a trick of last resort that sometimes

works and sometimes doesn’t.

 

My particular possum, very much alive

and grown tired of posing, raises

a four-finger wave, idly licks her palm,

and ambles off to finish her scavenging and find

some dark, safe place to sleep the day away.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Zoo Scenes: A Haiku Series

1

The rhino wallows

in rain-renewed stinking mud

as rhinos will do.

bear

2

Upside down he sleeps,

hind legs propped against the wall,

black bear belly-up.

3

The tiger’s a tease,

roaring his presence, pacing

just inside den’s door.

4

Solo seal stretching

on the platform with back bend

a yogi would envy.

notgazelles

5

Can’t think what they’re called,

with gazelles’ grace, goats’ hunger,

mowing down the reeds.

6

Lions reclining

in coats of majestic gold,

monarchs at leisure

7

Giraffe obliges

his admirers by dining

right beside the fence.

8

The snow leopard naps

as a lazy housecoat would

up on the wire bridge.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Jaguar Cub

photo-9

A vacant habitat, a sense of disappointment,

but then a perked-up nose and emerald eyes appear

within a square of darkness at the opening of the den,

and he struts out, shoulders prominent,

sniffing out his territory, scratching on a tree’s exposed roots,

stretching into an impressive yawn, surveying the

sealed-off voyeurs scrambling for a better view of him,

spotted in more ways than one, finally propping his chin

on the low stone wall, with oversized paws out in front,

granting the photo op.

 

Copyright 2014

  1. Allen Culpepper

Snow-Leopard Cub

snowleopard

Seeing us through the panel glass

but unable to discern our tell-tale scents,

he rolls onto his back, showing his belly,

comfortable in our presence, and we in his,

perceiving no danger, taking on faith the strength

of the untested transparent barrier between us.

Dropping his head backward over the platform edge,

as if waiting for a chin-and-ear scratch,

tail dangling over the side, occasionally

thumping against the wooden supports,

he looking for all the world like a cuddly spotted housecat,

except for that lethal hundred pounds.

 

Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Breakfast with Animals, Occasionally Deceased

I had breakfast today with the first

hummingbird of the season, he on

one side of the glass, I on the other.

 

Nor was he the first creature

with which I have communed at breakfast.

Often raccoons have joined me, and,

when I had to rise especially early,

a family of opossums.

 

Cats, of course, are de rigueur;

many of those have accompanied me,

sometimes crunching their dry food,

sometimes mewing for a bit of bacon,

or surreptitiously lapping the milk

from my bowl of cereal.

 

Once there was a bobcat, lean,

sinewy and beautiful, once

a russet-coated fox padding by

on white-socked feet.

 

Often, there have been rabbits,

scurrying around the yard,

and a few times, deer, so easily startled.

Once too, oddly, a cow that

had wandered from her pasture,

and, from time to time, a dog.

 

Chickadees, sometimes cardinals,

and various other birds, and

squirrels—that goes without saying.

 

On occasion, unfortunately, the

animal is deceased—the cat has

killed a mouse or bird, or

perhaps a baby bunny,

quickly and without too much

suffering, I hope.

 

Recently, I found a possum,

lying beside the fence, not

just playing dead—poor thing,

the victim of who knows what;

as with the bunny, I bagged her up,

but not without remorse.

 

Not a pleasant way to start the day,

but life goes on.

And death goes on.

And life goes on again.

 

The hummingbird is back.

 

Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper