Sciurus niger

What brought her here, this sweet fur spark
to gasp for milk, to wrestle vainly with the air
all laid out on the unforgiving, hard-baked clay?
Her eyes still shut, her limbs too weak
to drag her here by some misguided urge, and
no squirrels’ nests above
from which she might have fallen.

Some kite’s meal interrupted,
when a mobbing crow flew out to harass
and she slipped from harried talons,
or a Steller’s jay’s or raven’s boorish prank,
perhaps, to drop her on the road.
I thought her dead at first, but then
she woke, my shadow fell on her
and on her back she went, mouth open for the tit.

Her new fur clean and short. Her head no larger than
the first joint of my thumb,
and similarly blunt. From snout to tail
two inches and a half. Her teeth
the merest nubs.

A downy, breathing bit of innocence, and she would die.
Ten thousand eyes watched from the trees.
The ground around her littered with coyote scat,
the fringing grass alive with serpents.
Even a squirrel espying her here
would be more likely to devour than nurse her.

(Milk, please, milk!)

She would be one flick of coyote tongue,
a kingsnake’s five-minute diversion, irresistible
and wriggling. She fell asleep before me,
woke again, begged me for milk again.

I could scoop her up, I thought, her teeth
too small to bite, carry her home
in a bandana held against my heart
and wring thick milk from tips of rags
into her greedy mouth.

(She would not live, too young by half.)

But perhaps she would, and then the release.

(Tamed and guileless into a world of cats.)

She will die. She will die! And I stand here and do nothing.

(You can do nothing. You should do nothing.

To cradle her in your palm, to run
soft fingertip along her spine, would be indulgence.
She dies a hundred times a day
on this mountain, and the only oddity
is that today she dies before you on the road.)

She dies before me on the road!

(And there is this: she is a fox squirrel,
and ten thousand of her kind advance
from the exotic leafy suburbs
to eat the eggs of native birds, to oust the grays
and drive them to extinction on this mountain. You
who wrench the Vinca from the ground
know this. What more humane control
than this, before she learns the skittering joy
of flight from tree to tree,
the bitter succulence of acorns?)

I knew, but still her yawning hunger
filled my brimming eyes.
All of existence had betrayed her. All she asked
was sleep, and warm fur, and the tit.
I knelt above her. She stretched,
and stretched again, and
turned to me again and asked, again.

I kept my longing hands held stiff away.
“I can’t help you.” As much to myself as her.
And rose, and walked five feet away and turned.
I am sorry, little girl. I am sorry,
and when I came down from the rainy summit
six hours on in the coyote twilight
she was gone, and quail called from
beneath the flower-laden buckeyes.

7 thoughts on “Sciurus niger

  1. Holly

    Lovely poem, Chris.  Do you know William Stafford’s poem Traveling Through the Dark?

    I once found a baby bunny on the sidewalk of the University of Iowa campus.  I took it home and nursed it—I think it probably died sooner rather than later because I drowned it squeezing milk into its mouth with an eyedropper.  But it’s hard to let very young things die—you feel that if they managed to make it into the world, they should be given a chance to grow up in it.

  2. I Gallop On

    Beautiful beautiful poetry.  I did the same thing years ago with a baby magpie who’d fallen from the nest. 

    I know a family in Texas who rescued a baby owl.  Remember it sitting on the curtain rod in the dining room looking at us with glowing somber eyes.  The husband was a veterinarian.  So he actually had success bringing many of his rescues along and then releasing them.

  3. zhoen

    The real reason humans have domesticated or tamed any animal they could, for longer than we have been a species.  That deeply emotional,  non-rational urge to nurse the innocent and helpless.