Once they may have been a minor species
we viewed perhaps as incidental food,
rooted from the occasional burrow
by women searching for tubers or grubs.
Aha! they’d say, holding their find by the tail
while it squirmed like a furry toad and flashed
radiant, pin-prick eyes. Then they’d dash its brains
against a tree, and lay it in a special basket.
When the men returned meatless from the hunt,
questioning their dreams and the shaman’s prayers,
the women would laugh and show their harvest,
sometimes a dozen of the beasts: snake-tailed,
short-eared, bloody and plump to bloating. Meat.
Millennia passed as the glaciers withdrew.
On the sunswept prairies, burrows ran deep
in blind gropings for coolness and moisture.
We fled the brazen plains, thickened rivers;
priests arose among those who found the gods
in seasonal processions through the sky,
and knew which star’s arrival meant, to plant.
And what’s our history together after that—
subject, killer, vector, each in turn?
We never hunt them anymore for food;
still, one morning as I puttered through my yard
with a fork for turning compost into soil,
I saw one huddled darkly in the flowers
and knew it was the one that, late at night,
had looted the bird seed in the pantry,
shit in the kitchen, spooked the dogs awake,
and had in mind my ultimate eviction.
I speared it where it sat. I felt the tine
shatter ribs and slice its guts clean through.
It squealed and turned, and bit the fork so hard
I felt its pain’s vibrations in my hands,
my tightening grip. It bit and squealed again,
like Abel, I imagined, struck at prayer.