Raccoon Latrine [Judith Skillman]

The ringed beasts come
as if society were docile,
one by one up the trunk,
and where it splits—

that crotch where the squirrel
made his home—they squat
and do their business.
Markings on fur seem an entitlement

by moon-light: black-beige-gray.
As if a tiger had sold its stripes
for the right to be transgender
and own an opposable thumb.

They seem to sense, science-based,
as are climbers, the outline of the yard,
its jig saw map from paving stones
to dead lilac, ringed

with marsh violets where, beneath the earth,
Persephone clenches her fingers
gone purple with the cold.
My husband rents a cage

as big as a double-wide.
He places a dry sandwich
far back where a door sits
propped open. Faces the trap

toward the house. Then, as if evidence-based,
two days into a week’s rent,
he turns it toward the fence
as if privacy were a commodity

valued by the diversity
of the hungry.
Holly branches sway jauntily
across the wires. When I see

a fetus, its red berries and thorn-sharp leaves,
I remember being vulnerable
to chronic fatigue, sickness and pain.
Two daughters left for good.

Gone as well: the son who would
see these piles of black on bark,
smell the wakeful stink
and know just what to say.


Judith Skillman’s most recent book is Kafka’s Shadow, Deerbrook Editions. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, FIELD, Cimarron Review, Shenandoah, The Iowa Review, and in anthologies, most recently Nasty Women Poets, Lost Horse Press. She has been a writer in residence at the Centrum Foundation, and is the recipient of a 2017 Washington Trust GAP grant. Visit www.judithskillman.com, jkpaintings.com, https://www.facebook.com/judith.skillman

Inspiration: The inspiration for “Raccoon Latrine” was, quite literally, the Big Leaf Maple some raccoons appropriated for their latrine. They seemed to have no concerns regarding human etiquette, manners, or rules.


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