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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

American Life in Poetry: ‘Possum in the Garbage’

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Readers of this column have probably noticed how much I love poems that give us new ways of looking at things, and in this example Faith Shearin does just that. I especially like “four-legged relative / of the moon,” which so perfectly describes the coat of a possum in partial light. Shearin lives in West Virginia and her most recent book is “Orpheus, Turning,” from The Broadkill River Press.

Possum in the Garbage

He was a surprise of white: his teeth

like knives, his face a triangle

of albino dislike. I had seen him before,

on our back porch, where my father

sometimes left watermelon rinds,

and he dipped his tongue into them,

his skin glowing beneath our lights,

like some four-legged relative

of the moon. I knew him

as a citizen of the night:

a fainting, ghostly presence

with a tail so naked it was

embarrassed to drag behind him.

But that morning, terrified and violent,

he was different: a hissing fury

at the bottom of the garbage can,

a vampire bathed in light.

Poem copyright 2015 by Faith Shearin, “Possum in the Garbage,” from “Orpheus, Turning,” (The Broadkill River Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.