Raccoon Time


by Rodney Jones

Perhaps, in searching for a den, it had squeezed through
The terra-cotta pipe atop the chimney and dropped
In a skittering tumble through the rusted damper
To lie for a while in the soot by the andirons,
Stunned and licking its injuries, and in that instant
Probably did not know itself raccoon but went on
Out of a habitual raccoon fastidiousness,
Sniffing the ghosts of the chopping block,
Rearing on the piano bench to touch the dry
Black noses of the keys. What did it glean
Of our sealed wilderness and hidden springs?
The faucet dripped. The soap sang in its dish.
We live in a dim inkling or a rapt afterness,
But something was here, and one of us, for at least
An hour before Gloria shook me from sleep,
Saying, "Quick, the dog has a live
Animal in Samuel's room," and I went naked
And fearless as I was imagining rabbit or bird,
So when it wheeled from the shadow of the bed,
At first it seemed huge as a bear or Bengal tiger,
Making me holler like something huge and rabid,
As it went past me in a fierce downgearing waddle,
Spun, and clawed on down the stairs, with first
The dog and then Gloria, beating a plastic
Laundry tub on the rug, and going eee-iii, eee-iii,
For she is an impetuous woman descended from generals,
While I am a person to stand back in emergencies,
Weighing escape routes. I do not ever cross
A bridge but that whole histories of options
Crop up like bubbles from the river's bottom;
But as I pulled on my jeans while hearing
The thumps, eee-iiis, masked snarls, and shattering
Of pots, the thought of my wife's resolve
So quickly shamed me to the thick of things,
That there I was, like a lock on the stairs,
When it found the open door and trickled out,
No Grendel, perhaps, though I put it here shining
As if at the center of a heraldic shield
With her going at it, and me standing back
To tell the story. If that is the place of men,
It will be no less glory for me, and she
Will have that image to balance those more
Cautious nights when she defers to my wisdom.

Rodney Jones is the author of six poetry collections. His poem in this issue will appear in his book to be published this spring.

The Atlantic Monthly; February 1999; Raccoon Time; Volume 283, No. 2; page 62.

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