Ode to My Backyard Gopher


By Craig van Rooyen

Featured Art by Thomas Cole

Oh blind digger, furred borer,
miner of nothing at the end of a tunnel
to nowhere. My nocturnal brother,
I can report up top
the screech owl sounds like
he’s ripping holes in a paper sky.
Tonight’s scent salad:
honeysuckle-jasmine served under
a thin glaze of starlight. Nothing
between me and Venus
but goosebumps. What gets you
through the long hours down there?
Now and then when I go inside
to pour coffee or smash graham crackers
in warm milk, I read a few lines
of William Carlos Williams

who can get high on open scissors, or
a waste of cinders sloping down
to the railroad. I’m looking
for things to tie myself to. Maybe
the chain-link backstop that, right now,
is making diamonds of the backlit clouds,
or the trembling peppercorn tree.
Anything to stay topsoil-side
for a few more decades. Do you fear
the sky as much as I fear the press of earth?
Do you stay awake imagining
the unbearable lightness of air?
The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions,
rises to drunken heights, says Williams,
and I walk outside again. Everywhere
new leaves, so thin the moon
shines through. My neighbors cling
to each other in their sleep.
A three-legged stray totters out from shadow
to beg with a lopsided wag. Dig
oh warm-blooded rodent.
Bore your tunnels though no one sees
their dark patterns. Come morning,
the three-legged dog will hobble
from fresh mound to fresh mound,
quivering at the scent of your passage.


Craig van Rooyen holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University. He lives and works in San Luis Obispo, CA. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Narrative, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize, and runner-up for the 2018 Auburn Witness Prize.

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