Not by sight, sound is how they sense;
impish, like they just did something nasty,
erratic as they scurry back. I snuck up on one
out of boredom, once, lead-footed and silent,
only to see him whip under the back deck.
But soon they appeared each day: new ones,
babies, the color of stained cedar
or orange peels soaked in dumpsters.
The trap, eroded and latticed, an apple
in the middle, loomed three feet from the deck.
The next morning two were caught.
As if gutted into figurines by a taxidermist
they erected themselves high, claws wrapped
around corroded little bars, immobile.
We didn't drown them like our neighbor, who
dipped caged squirrels and chipmunks in the creek.
Once, after one homemade bomb
(made from toilet bowl cleaner) exploded,
spraying plastic two-liter bottle bits into the air
before settling on the earth of our yard,
he marched over, excited at possible death.
Did you get 'em? he asked. Disappointed,
he strolled head down back to his house,
a month after his wife died, ill with dementia.
She told my father once that her stuffed
pets walked and talked. Think of it: bears and dolls
waxing on space and time, their jaws flapping.
That day, the groundhogs' fur might have been
talc-white, not unlike the faces of the drowned,
the dying. But they had color. That night we took them
to Hempfield Park, dispensed them in ditch grass,
watched the tall stalks shiver in the flashlight.
When I awaken at 3 a.m., I sense it
among parked cars outside my window
and in the scratched wood letters
of carved bench backs in the park.
I hear night's tired machine shops
that tread these wet roads with me:
soft, immutable hums like breath, calming
the fists of soaked leaves against fences.
A cop passes, slowing down to glare,
wondering why I'm awake, pacing
this late. I'm here, I tell myself,
because the night had reached
a stillness I couldn't realize,
a thickness I couldn't breathe.
Now I walk past sleeping houses,
fog-sprayed lamplight battering
my skin, each breath. I'm stranded
with my voice, my body, waiting
until this dark subsides and I feel
the first hint of sun in my eyes.
Soon there will be waking, creatures
of the night to shrill, squalling birds,
and the embodied yawns of waking lovers,
now far away, drowned in fixed desire.
On "Groundhogs": For some reason groundhogs have always fascinated me. The events in the poem took place over a number of years. Since it was written, the older couple I mention have both passed on, so as it started as a poem of memory, it now represents a kind of elegy.
On "Unearthly Height": There's something both beautiful and terrifying about a small town neighborhood during the hours of the early morning. To me it's a feeling that can't come from any other place.
The works of Larry Levis, Mark Doty, Joe Bolton, and C.K. Williams continue to astound me.