200. Small Animals

The leaves, dead on the trees.
James put hands
To his ears. They’re
Dead, he thought–why won’t
They come down? Been
Scraping like sandpaper
Since last fall. They’re only
Stuck up there–
The sap is gone.
Our tree don’t leaf in May
No more. Don’t even bud,
Put out those purply nubs.
Forget the plums.

He whittled at his
Branch. It had four twigs: two
Arms, two legs–a cowboy doll.
He listened closely,
But the air was still.
James missed wet sounds–
The brush of rainy
Foliage: green would shout out
Fire-red, against this gray–
No more, the leaves
As glowy-fat as petals, that bled
Moisture when you
Punched them with your nail.
The grass, as well, earth
Plump beneath your toes,
And springy, too….These days
James coughed walking,
Like the old men did,
Dirt smoking up his nose. And
The stickers! Sharp as
Needles on the paths–
Thistles, burrs, a moaning
Cow would eat and die,
Lodged in her muzzle.
Only hardpan–
Soil had blown and gone.

Fretful, James spat
On his knife–the blade was
Dull. He missed the friendly
Rabbits; prairie dogs, and
Prairie owls, that slept together,
Shared their holes.
He looked for them,
Bright eyes that you’d spy
Smack-dab behind you….
Vanished, with no trace.

But vanished where?
What place?
The older boys at school
Would tease the younger
With this riddle: Where’s
The match-flame
Disappear to, when you
They wouldn’t tell
The answer–only
Laughed, as if James were
Too young to know.

He carved a tiny thumb
On one small twig.
Why ask what place–
He shrugged–if it don’t
Show? Who
Cares, as long as
I don’t have to go.

One Response to “200. Small Animals”

  1. Kaki Warner Says:

    I never thought of the small animals being gone, too. How do you do that? Throw such a broad net that no detail is lost? You make me feel the grit, the bleakness, the taste and silence of a world encased in dust. What a gift.

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