Skunk hour

skunk hour


The Providence area is full of wildlife. I wrote about fisher cats not long ago, nasty weaselly things prowling down by the riverside. Foxes are being seen this summer all over the East Side (though I haven’t seen one yet, and I would love to, because I think they’re cute). Bunnies are everywhere. Ditto big ugly garbage-eating raccoons. Ditto possums, one of which hissed at me a few years ago when I passed it on the street.

 

 

And then there are skunks.

 

 

They’re always smaller than I think they’re going to be, like kittens. Their colors are lovely. But they’re alarming, for obvious reasons, or maybe just for one very obvious reason.

 

 

I can usually smell them when they’re in the neighborhood. Either I’m especially sensitive to their scent, or my rural upbringing makes me more aware of them. (Our old family dog back in the 1960s got sprayed more than once, and I can still hear him whining and crying in my mind.)

 

 

I was coming out of the local market one recent evening. It’s only about two blocks away from our apartment, and I have my choice of two routes home: a dull route that goes straight down the avenue, and another much more interesting sidewalk that winds up the hillside and is surrounded by shrubbery. I usually choose the winding sidewalk for the sake of aesthetics (even though I know that robbers and muggers are probably waiting among the shrubs to jump me), and so I did the other night.

 

 

But a young skinny guy was coming down the walk toward me, jabbering at me. I thought (charitably) that he was speaking on his Bluetooth, but then he approached me with an earnest look on his face. “There’s a skunk up there!” he exclaimed. “At the top of the path! He’s looking very – territorial!”

 

 

“Which way was he facing?” I said. “Toward you, or away from you?”

 

 

“Toward me,” he said. “But he wasn’t moving, and he had a determined look on his face.”

 

 

That was enough for me. I thanked Mr. Skinny Bicycle for saving me from a fate worse than death, and went home via the dull safe route.

 

 

Here are the last four stanzas of Robert Lowell’s great poem, “Skunk Hour”:

 

 

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

 


A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here–

 


only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

 


I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air–
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.


 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

2 Responses to Skunk hour

  1. starproms says:

    I am not, as you appreciate, familiar with skunks in any way. We don’t have them over here (luckily I suppose). However, whilst in Tennessee, I did get to smell one and it was SO strong. I couldn’t believe it. The smell came into the car and remained with us all the way up the road. That picture you showed us is lovely. They look so cute.

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