Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Just before crossing the Snake River on 48,
I saw a crumple of rich, ruddy brown
sprawled across the white line. Too massive
for a deer or a racoon, it took the shape
of a human torso draped in an ancient
shaggy coat. The jut and slope
along the top looked like the arm
and shoulder of a man lounging,
Oscar Wilde smoking a pipe in bed,
or the old poet I saw once climbing
the steps to a stage in such furs, straight
out of a subzero night, pulling a pelt hat
from his white curls and stepping up
to the mike with bright bravado. It was
a beaver in the road, the dark paddle
of its tail spilled in my lane,
so I stopped because you rarely get to see
these creatures up close. Only their wreckage
on the land in late winter, the points
of gnawed stumps standing up in snow
like monster pencils. Its teeth were yellow
and bigger than you’d guess, curled
a bit as they are in cartoons.
I’ve seen hundreds of deer smeared
on this road, but beaver never. The toppled
pelt is rare and quaint as an old literary
lion losing his friends one by one, so he can
hold forth after the memorial reading with all
the stories he’s kept to himself so long,
stories that make the dead friend less.
I don’t know much about beavers except
that their lips close behind their teeth. I’ve trained
my lens on their dens in this sedge for hours
and never seen one moving, though
the long trails they gouge in snow tell me
where they came through, the tails, heavy
and scored as tongues, erasing their tracks
as they drag the woods under.
There’s not much here to see, but
the vision of the great poet wrapped
in such a fur and lying in the road
stays with me all the way into the cabin,
and it’s still there when I return to my anger
at the awful comments running down
a page under a photograph of two women
expecting a child. Nobody shuts down
the handful of men making snide
remarks about where the father is,
and though I sit here thinking of arrows
I want to sling, I know that it would not
make the young women feel better
to add my outrage. I don’t know enough
about beavers to know if that one was old,
or pregnant, or simply a very healthy specimen,
but its mass was impressive even stilled,
the fur slick and ripe as wind rifled
the carcass. The rage for beaver coats
once threatened them with extinction,
and woods tightened around clearings,
water sped elsewhere, all batter and light.
But here they are again laying claim
to acres and acres, making sure water
behaves around the fort they’ve built,
and, like us, making sure all avenues
of change are theirs by design.  

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