The Opossum

We call the local rats "fruit rats" because it makes them sound cleaner and friendlier, less pestilent. In this tropical climate they live outdoors, often in the tops of palm trees, walking along the telephone lines at sunset, eating the various lemons and oranges, mangos and avocados in backyards up and down the block. Unless they take up residence in my gutters or crawlspace I don't bother them, but recently I've found evidence of such trespass, and so set about to kill the offender with old-fashioned, spring-loaded rat traps from the hardware store. But the first few nights don't go well at all. I set the traps at dusk, and in the morning the bait of old cheese-rind has vanished, with the traps entirely unmolested. Strange. This time I decide to set my three rat traps side by side, with only the middle one baited, and the next morning—disaster: two traps lie wantonly sprung and empty, but the third trap, the middle one, has disappeared. Where? How? It could only be some larger creature that has done it, a neighborhood cat, or a super rat, an animal now injured, or debilitated, which might have crawled some distance into the bushes, perhaps—but I can find no sign of it anywhere. Chastened, I abandon my rat removal campaign, and within a week forget all about it, or try to, until one night watching TV after dinner I hear an odd noise floating through the window, clomp, clump, a kind of straggled clatter, growing louder, more insistent, and I realize, in a flash, that it can only be the noise of whatever animal I have inadvertently snared, a thump every bit as deafening in its accusation as the throb of the "Tell-Tale Heart." Quickly I grab a flashlight and there it is, a young opossum with a rat trap fastened to its left front paw, limping across the deck like a vengeful spirit. Panic tears at me, fear and remorse, the realization that I had known all along that I would not escape unscathed from this misadventure, that a cost would yet be levied against my soul. But there's hope—if I can catch the opossum somehow, if I can release the trap and set him free! I grab a towel as I dash out the back door, thinking to throw it like a net, wondering about scratches, whether possums carry rabies, but he has caught wind of me and begins to scurry away, impaired but still nimble, scooting along the wall and behind the central air conditioner and into a hole scrabbled in the hard dirt below my deck, out of reach. So that's where he lives. In the morning I remove the decking screws and take up several planks but there is no sign of the opossum. It seems likely this eviction will doom it, and I don't know how it survived this long in such a state—though its kind are nothing if not survivors, having borne their prehensile tails and marsupial pouches from the time of dinosaurs—but I do not hesitate to fill its burrow with dirt, and barricade the entryway with slabs and shards from an old flower pot to prevent him from returning. There is nothing else to be done. We are bound by what we carry, we belong to what we kill. The porter weed has failed and needs replacing. Tangerines lie where they have fallen in the sparse grass. In the hours before dawn I find myself in the backyard talking with the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe, begging his forgiveness, though even as I lay the first stone upon his tiny grave—not a stone but a shard of broken pottery—I recognize, by the palpable quality of the moonlight, by the warm tears against my cheek, by the ravishing perfume of night-flowering jasmine—that this life, too, is no more substantial than a dream.
The Custodian and Other Poems
Campbell McGrath
Mcgrath_cover

The Custodian and Other Poems

Campbell McGrath

Floating Wolf Quarterly Cover_wolf