Possums are so chillingly detestable to me that I cannot
bear to look at them. As road kill, it is hard to decipher what is outer and
inner, so grotesque is their skin. A mother and babies at her teats under the
car in the driveway, pink and gray, look like squirming aliens. One moves
across the pavement and disgusts me with its slow, seeming blindness. Its
hideous nose relentlessly pulls its hideous body and worm of a tail, dull and
On a rapturous summer morning in a week of them while my
seventeen-month-old grandson visits, I pull him to the meadow in our ritual of
sunrise, wind and birdtalk. He holds the sides of the wagon, and occasionally I
brush mosquitoes from his temples. He looks serious while we encounter a golden
cosmos flower, a few blue dianthus, tall grasses and sumac. Bending poplars
whisper and wave. Wrens and sparrows leap in the trees around the perimeter of the meadow
bowl. We don’t speak, or if we do it is hushed, hoping not to disturb all this.
It is a pretense, and I sense in my gut that we don’t belong. Yet there is no
resistance to our being here.
We reach the tree swing, and he grins, waves his arms and
points, preparing for me to pick him up. I wrap my right arm and hand around
his waist, set him firmly in my lap, take hold of the rope with my left hand
and balance us trickily on the wide wooden board while my feet run backward
steps on the ground to start our descent from as high an arc point as possible.
And release. Wind. Celestial wind. My chin on his head, his hair fine as spider
silk blowing across my lips. The branch is high, so the pendulum swings long
and slow. In silent appreciation we feel part of this grace, this cool wind and
shade in hot summer, these creatures driven to survive.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a possum, big and fat. He
is crawling slowly in our tree’s shade, in the mown circle with us, at the edge
of the tall grasses, so slowly that he doesn’t seem to be moving. I have a
decision to make: Welcome him, ignore him, or wish him away. I whisper to
James, “Look, a possum.”
“Der,” he says. (“There.”) Enthralled, we watch this animal be with us, watch us. We keep swinging,
with my periodic ground steps to restart the pendulum. For a full ten minutes
we watch each other without another word. Possum's eyes are huge, aware. He walks slowly away, into the
grasses. James lifts his hands in his gesture of “where is it?” and I whisper,
“he’s going to sleep in the grass.” We swing a while longer, and he asks a few
more times in the same way, “where is possum?”
For once I know the possum, a little. I see him in my mind’s
eye. He is not ugly (this one, at least, is not ugly). I doubt he will ever be
ugly to James. The possum lives in “our” meadow. He welcomes us. He shows me
what is ugly in myself and changes me.
Sometimes when you want to cry, you just have to laugh. Events both universal and personal coalesce in a week of distressing times. I am seeking peace and openness, or hoping for it at least, when my will is weak. Some days peace hides, until unexpected messengers break it open in spite of themselves, and me.