Raccoon in the Sun Garden

by R.T. Smith

Trimming the redbud whose
splendor was just right
back in April, I gave

the white hollyhocks
a shot at sunlight, as who
would begrudge their

skin-sheer petals access
to radiant July? I have,
after all, a steady good

time meddling in that
garden not of my own
making and never find

more trouble there
than paper wasps or
a black racer, but what

rushed through my rash
mind when I saw
bright eyes amid

the blossoming hosta
was this: what if his
mother (blackberrying

downhill, I guessed)
took offense at my
presence? He gazed

steadily at my face then,
as if to prove himself
no menace, the still

fire of his fur turning mild,
and when I saw him weeks
later by the meadow rill

cleaning a fingerling
rainbow with his forepaws,
he gave me no sign.

Now in raw autumn
the hollyhocks have risen
to resplendence,

and this morning under
the birch turning gold
I found hand prints

with small claws. Evidence
of his scavenger’s
existence, though I can’t

say if his animation amid
the torn marigolds is kin
to mine or some restless

sign of the season. At night
he gnaws the rake handle
to taste or maybe annihilate

every trace of my salt.

R.T. SMITH is Writer-in-Residence at Washington and Lee University, where he edits Shenandoah. The most recent of his four collections of stories is Sherburne (Stephen F. Austin U Press, 2012). His work has appeared in Best American Short StoriesNew Stories from the SouthVQRSouthern Review and Esquire. A new book of poems, The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O’Connor will appear in 2013. Smith lives in Rockbridge County, VA, with his wife, the writer Sarah Kennedy.

All poems reprinted, by permission of author, from Messenger, Louisiana State University Press, 2001.