How quickly they come to their full bodies and never that protean instant of metamorphoses, only one day both were inexplicably large with the downy, white, otherworldly mien of the working children of the Depression Thomas Wolfe described as cottonheads.
But one fluffing up and flexing, leaping and beating its wings while the other hung back, shadowed and tentative. Perhaps because it had hatched later. Or was that its nature, to watch? The sneak, the thief, who watches and conceals as he had waited in the shadow of his sister.
A few weeks, as May turned to June, he studied them through expensive binoculars, then noted in a cheap black notebook events that stood out: mornings, a parent carrying a snake, thunderstorms, hot nights – and what might have transpired in the back of the nest. Killing lessons, lockings of beaks.
Each day a further emergence until the one called Jupiter was boldly venturing along high limbs, and the other, the peeker, who remained unnamed, stepping forth in increments, pausing to check the position of its feet and wings as if monitoring gauges for oil pressure or altitude.
Later, when they had first flown and he had missed it, he grieved, though of course, hawks are not people; flight is what feathers are for; eyases fly – badly at first: aiming to soar they often dip, then flap, flap desperately to clear the eaves. Yardbirds, they grub two weeks. Luck noted, They apprentice before becoming hawks, as chickens.
Moss, exemplary machine of function and beauty, unchanged for forty million years and sponging just enough moisture from the air above the escarpment to form without thought an emerald pallet, how could you care about the pastor of the Rock Springs Holiness Church as he bends and gathers the living proof of faith in an ancient gunny sack? Stepping delicately around your face, a name-giver like Adam, he is staid and rational. Because the white of the new Holstein bull’s left side resembles a map of the South American continent, he calls him Atlas. Once a rooster named Genghis Khan pecked out his aunt’s eye. Once a sow named Rosie nursed an orphan puppy. The mule Horatio does not forgive or accuse the tractor. Untrembling, unfearful, and unkind moss, the pastor wonders about you as the signs progress to apocalypse. Hearing a noise late at night, he wakes, circles the house and, finding nothing but a coon jimmying the lid of a plastic can, remembers, before returning to bed, to refrigerate the serpents he will pass out to the congregation.
TALKING TO ANIMALS
A young female gray fox in the shadow of the tool shed at the back of the yard chasing them lunging at ghosts.
Who seemed easy with her life and only mildly aloof among rank strangers not even her own kind, trotting near and wheeling to freeze for an instant and hear Brown’s whispered “There, there,” and “Come closer, friend.”
Like wind bristling in a tree. But she is not a friend.
Trapped, drugged, taken in a cage on a truck from the den she had made under the round house by the lake, she wakes the same day in a strange forest by a distant lake.
The rain on her coat is a portal to Wall Street. Her dugs still strutted with milk and her dead kits accuse him of a vain complicity.
Men who anthropomorphize the economy as the icecaps shrink.
The currency dealer who weeps at The Fox and the Hound, dry-eyed at his mother’s funeral.
The retired teacher who dresses her cat in a sweater, but will not send her daughter six hundred dollars.
This, too, Doctor charm, Madam Tenderness, George Brown.
Things you saw coming. Don’t baby-talk the monkey.
The opossum, that prehistoric pocket isolette, when headlit, shuts like a politician who shifts topics on being asked a leading question.
Or becomes a hip postmodern possum, her deadpan lump undertaken on the lam, her role of a lifetime nailing a lesser actress attempting her lesser self.
A bump where swamp and freeway intersect, Wednesday, a jot past midnight, car-crossed, moon-washed, the instant passing like a wand across a blacktop that was voted on.
And then it lies so still, unmaking beginning as Brown heads uphill. A closed water park. Joe’s Imperial Boom City! And farther, going little towns of operettas and pretty baby pageants. Apolitical
miles between American cities, neither pepper nor salt, where Brown tries not to veer as he considers dinner options: perhaps some golden fries, some fish, and still no exit that is not opossum.
PORTIS AND THE DOE
One of the deeply shy, one of the abject and baffled, just before twilight she appeared not twenty feet from him, looked him in the eye and hightailed it back into the trees. Then he remembered how she had come to him first as a human being. Afraid, incoherent, drunk, she had snapped on the light, stumbled to his bed and shaken him awake. There, yet not there. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he remembers thinking. The head swayed, wild eyes stared down at him. Then she screamed, “Asshole, you’re not even him!” And disappeared. The room was iron. The smell of whisky hung there like a beard. Oh, he knew her alright: the candor of her body – the wilderness of her mind justified high fences. But who was he? What kind of animal?