Old tomcat pummeled bloody prints across her chest,
Annie Dillard wrote.
But Dillard’s Virginia Blue Ridge
Valley days shine compared to
living backwoods Buffalo River-style where incidents snap
accidental and I thought not once about recording them,
except in my head.
When Mike and I lived in town,
we saw a bobcat saunter to the frosted roadside
between the quarry and the old asylum.
We stopped the car and watched. And he turned his triangle jowls
to inspect us.
Be safe, I thought.
Your ancestral home now stands on the cusp of civilization.
And that human appetite for civility is an ironically feral thing.
Life draws itself on plainer paper
since we’ve lived in the Ozarks. Background noise erased
so that I hear the snow-crunch underfoot
and my own sound is like the oboe’s perfect A,
beware those acres of rustling leaves.
And me, too wet-paperbag dumb to admit
I’m not walking through storybook pages.
In Mountain Home the vet told me, your dog’ll live because
he doesn’t know that bite can kill, fear
pumps the poison faster.
He told of an old man, one leg swelled fat from rattler bite.
Open skin splitting.
The vet asks, You at all concerned you’ll die?
No. My dog got bit and he didn’t die,
guess I won’t either.
Mike and I walked in Disgo:nah, Long Night Moon.
At a turn, we saw an owl’s wings, broad and low.
The owl whipped upward, limp rabbit in its talons.
It flew with purpose, like a rescue,
flew to the hole in the tree, or past it.
We lost sight in the dark,
the cottontail a dim reflector of moonlight.
And all of it a humble beauty.
In this space of Ozark woods, of country,
Mike and I traveled a day when all outdoors sounded like a sleeping child,
the weather a postcard, a blue-sky breath.
We drove downhill toward the one-room post office.
Trees in leaf on both sides. Big trees stir memories, Dillard wrote.
Then, as if we were prey, the whoosh of a hawk.
I felt like a city girl who never heard a bullfrog or saw a silo.
This hawk so close.
I saw his nostrils, somehow regal.
The hawk pitched, his body
clumsy and unfolded on the road.
We pulled to the ditch. I felt limp-armed.
Like a recollection, wings spasmed at my rotator cuffs.
I muddled at the car door.
Mike spoke to the hawk through the window
then knelt over him shamanlike.
He looked oddly small next to the hawk,
and I felt small as a fly in a cathedral.
I thought my job was to watch for traffic,
but there was none. I stood back to look at anything
but the bird
because I didn’t want to see injury close-up or far away
in this daylight.
like the frication of a bride’s dress,
huzzahs from the bolts of taffeta and satin
after vows. I heard the bird gather itself and lift.
Just stunned, Mike said.
No need to build a pen for its recuperation.
Or wring its neck, like I thought.
So fear is the element to purge,
to recognize as clearly as the cellar door latch.
From horseback, we glimpsed a fox carrying a snake
wound round its pointed snout
as it ran in the ditch. Emaciated,
the fox crossed the stubbled field.
I held the reins tighter as the horse shifted pace uphill,
through mud, over angled rocks. It’s set to memory,
that hoof clatter
and leather-on-leather croak,
like a felt soul.
When I run uphill, I drop my hands to hip level,
knuckles face the ground.
I lean forward to ease myself up, imagine I’m running on all fours
and tell myself, be safe,
because I’m a thing of civilization on the cusp of a feral bluff.
If I substitute my cat, I can emulate the frame of fighting tom
that Dillard uses in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
Abandoned kitten, punted up and down the Dairy Curl’s lot,
traveled home with me. A calico who prowled the woods. Grew wild.
Then summer mornings, rats festooned our bed
in rosy bits.
She left gnawed heads and shredded fur.
The kill to feed her litter, maybe gifts
for us as well, no sparrows, songbirds blue.
She carried heavy bodies,
by Sandy Fontana
Sandy Fontana teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Shawnee Community College; she established and maintains Krē ā tiv´ə tē, an online creative journal for students, and sponsors the annual Poetry Slam at SCC. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her poetry has been published in such literary magazines as Atlanta Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Little Patuxent Review, and Nimrod. She has poetry forthcoming from The Tishman Review. Sandy is a racquetball enthusiast and hopes for an imminent worldwide racquetball renaissance.