The Dreaded Skunk, A Poem by Chris Russell

The skunk did its little tough walk through our backyard. It pretended not to care if it was in danger, and then, just before it reached the woods, it stopped, and looked back at me through the kitchen window, taunting me. I ran outside to meet the challenge. I got down on all fours and started crawling behind it. It wasn’t going to spray me anyway, because that would have been too easy. It believed it was a human being. It didn’t need to make my eyes bleed with stink for a month to assert itself. That would have meant it was a skunk. I got within about ten feet of it, making sure not to trample the lady slippers. An hour later we got to its lair. A mound of sand rose next to it. It turned around and looked at me, and for a second, I thought it was flirting. It stamped its front claws three times. I stamped back. He stamped. I stamped. I looked into its eyes and didn’t blink. He looked back. After about 3 minutes his eyes started to tear up. He wasn’t so tough anymore. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” I said. “You humans have either avoided or killed my family for hundreds of years. I thought if I could be as tough and human as you that you’d take me for one of your own. But I’m just a skunk,” he said. He was really in a tough place. “I’m sorry our kind has hurt you. I’m ashamed. What’s ironic is that I feel more belonging with you here, now, than I have with any of my human friends,” I said. “Really? Are you saying I’m a friend?” He said. “Really,” I said. “Do you want to come down in my hole for a while and check out how a skunk lives?” He said. “I’d love that. I’ll show you mine, later,” I said. “I’d like that,” he said. He dropped down his hole. But I felt a sharp pain in my heart. I squeezed my head through the hole. “I won’t fit down,” I said. “I see,” he said. “But you can fit in mine,” I said. “You’d do that?” He said. “What’s mine is yours,” I said. “You mean that?” He said. “You bet,” I said. This really was something special. I knew people were going to think I was crazy, but I didn’t care. In the short time we’d known each other we’d developed a kind of trust and acceptance of boundaries that was worth more than all the money in the world, and I wasn’t about to give it up. Our strange understanding went beyond reason, and yet somehow predated it. Crawling through the checkerberry and fern at the edge of my property I could smell the aromas of fresh pine and mud, feel them like they were objects in time one could revisit, almost like they were a memory of a prior life I might have lived thousands of years ago. We arrived at my front door. “It’s okay to feel a little awkward. There are all these big things inside that I use in my everyday life that you may not be familiar with, and which will probably make you feel small,” I said. “What’s your name?” He said. “Randall,” I said. “Nice to meet you, Randall. I’m Alfred,” he said. He held out his claw. We shook. Then went inside. “Wait,” he said. He put his claw on my ankle. It hurt a little bit. He was shaking, and his eyes looked like two pools in a bubbling brook on a moonlit night. “I know,” I said. “I know you do,” he said.

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