My poems podcast, Words by Winter, can be found here.
One afternoon when I was twenty-six I left South High School and jumped into my little red car. Turned on the music –was it a tape?–as loud as it would go. Maybe Annie Lennox, maybe Joan Armatrading. Stopped at the red light on Cedar and 22nd, waited until it turned green, and put my foot on the gas.
In that moment, several things happened at once. The tiny car rocked from a blast of wind. A blur of rushing red filled the windshield. My foot jammed on the brake. In the second afterward, I slammed the dashboard with my hand and the music stopped while I watched a giant, silent fire truck speed on down Cedar.
In all the years since there have been more moments of almost-death, but it’s that day, and the memory of how wildly I wanted to live, that came flooding through me when I read this poem.
Possum Crossing, by Nikki Giovanni
Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street
Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home … being
naturally … slow her condition makes her even more ginger
We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit
I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it’s not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look …
relieved and exasperated …
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling … to lift itself into the wind