A Walk Around The Block

Thornton Wilder quoted “one of the great sonneteers” to the effect that “one line in fourteen comes from the ceiling; the others have to be adjusted around it.” In a similar vein, Randall Jarrell said “a good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times, a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.”

I make no claims to be great or good, but every once in a while a poem comes calling and it would be ungrateful not to answer the door. The following is more or less self-explanatory except, perhaps, for the foolery in the title.

I have no confidence my Latin is correct, but I am hoping I am right in believing sciurus mort means dead squirrel. The whole title is an allusion to a couple famous paintings by Nicolas Poussin in which classical shepherds find an antique tomb in a pastoral paradise. They are titled “Et in Arcadia Ego,” roughly, “Even in Arcadia, There I Am. I being death.

Et in Arcadia Sciurus Mort

Struck dead by one car, crushed flat by others,
It lies beneath the canopy of trees
Where it and parents, sisters, brothers
Spend their lives, nest and mate, hide goodies.

A treetop owl sees, but blinks impassively.
A hawk glides low, but doesn’t choose to land.
Carrion crows tear at the corpse and scream
When scattered by a delivery van.

You’d think after so may generations
Of perishing under oncoming wheels
The species would have undergone mutation
To shun all pavement, increase their speed,

Or keep to treetops permanently.
But there seems no shortage of squirrels as yet.
Perhaps their adaptation is copious progeny.
Survivors do not seem to mourn or fret,

Scamper over roofs, cross boughs, down trees,
Brunch on greens from my garden plot
While their fallen cousin, a memento mori,
Rotting in the gutter, disturbs my daily trot.

Are they really inferior in our eyes
Because innocent of what it means to be dead?
If so, a dubious trade-off that makes us wise,
But dyes green Arcadia with hues of dread.

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