Roadkill Octet Dawn Reno Langley

I killed a raccoon tonight,
coming off the St. Albans exit.
Maybe a rabbit, too,
and at least forty-two
frogs of various sizes.
The Aurora Bourealis poured
Green shade into the cold
Northeast Kingdom night.
I.

Wendy and I take our kids to see a movie in
Burlington.    Every ten minutes or so, the movie restarts, returning each time to the very beginning.    In the car on the way home, the three kids keep repeating, “Dog’s got personality.    Personality goes a long way.”

Halfway up Route 89, the sky lightens, strands of purple, lime green, electric blue, yellow swim together like a river, like some giant alien sitting in the Northern Skies mixing buckets of iridescent paint.   I pull over to the side of the road and we sit there, amazed by the light show, in a group hush.

In the unusual lightness, small animals and birds scatter in various directions, confused by the brilliance.

The ‘coon’s solid weight
thuds my right front tire.
Guilty, responsible,
I blame the car,
our human invention,
designed to turn
nocturnal creatures
into tomorrow’s road kill.
II. When I discover my husband cheating on me, thoughts of what I should do, where I could go, and how I could get there preoccupy me as I drive home. The road that I follow every day is straight, unlit, usually safe. I ruminate and reminisce on what is, for the most part, a solid relationship, and try to figure out what went wrong. The emotions switch from calm and rational logic to stomach-clenching anxiety within seconds, and I can not control the behavioral swing. I forgave him many times before, understood the psychological reasons for his need to continuously reach out of the marital bed for another woman. The anger reached into my stomach. But unraveling the complex threads of that rage would result in my own implosion. We travel from state to state, to parts of the world others may never experience, yet the road home is the toughest to traverse.
The engine’s mumble spins me to New Mexico.
We manage thunderous conversations
as we navigate the Rockies,
past curious long-legged wolves watching
us wheel through forest-lined curves.
Nine hours. Dozens of dirty gray sheep
and mangy yellow dogs slung to the roadside
between Taos and the Grand Canyon.
III. My mother and I sit on the front stairs watching the traffic go by on Broadway. Our dog, Rinnie, perches beside us. A cocker-spaniel mix, Rinnie finds his way to my side whenever I sit down. I am three; he is almost a year.

Mama holds my hand when Rinnie dashes out into the street to follow a truck where another dog hangs off the side, barking. She holds my hand when Rinnie rolls under the truck, spun by the wheels, yipping. Screaming.

Two days later when Rinnie comes home, his right leg encased in a hip-high cast that made him walk crookedly, like a car missing a wheel, I am terrified of my old friend.

Snaky Pennsylvania headlights highlight
deer parts on the county highway.
An antler on the meridian strip,
a graceful leg on the shoulder,
a lonely fawn, big-eyed in a dark meadow.
Muffle the roaring exhaust,
the villain threatening to destroy
the adventure of new territory and each other.
IV. We roll through Amish country, my best friend Kristin sitting on a small chair wedged between the van’s two front seats. We head for Kutztown, an antiques show where we’ll sell the goods packed into the back of the van. No trees or bushes line the country roads but we occasionally spot a small black buggy that look like an undertaker’s ride from the turn of the century. I have to pee but we’ve gone miles without a gas station or variety store. The pain is so bad, I am ready to pee in a bush, but there isn’t any. The Amish people build strong houses and simple furniture; they’re  furniture makers par excellence. You’d think they could have made an outhouse for those who needed a roadside stop. On the other hand, they could see a stranger coming for miles, and that might be more important to them.
A captured breath, a paused heartbeat,
Bears me to Georgia, and her hushed whisper
that the United States grows
larger and larger every day.
The armour-plated armadillo smashes
against a side rail, a mess of maroon and grey.
Night left the slow-moving knight
as unprotected as new friendship.
V. Fei Xia saw the new Chinese professor in the hallway, a man she knew from China, a man who’d been in jail most of his life, a man who wanted to defect. They ignored each other in the hallway, as if they didn’t know each other, yet they were more familiar with the other’s history than anyone else at the college. Her defensive posture was obvious. It dawned on me that she was the Communist; he was the one who fights for democracy; I was her friend.

We travelled from Vermont to Florida, a trip Fei Xia believed was as long as China is wide. She kept a notebook throughout the trip, writing in it as she huddled in the back seat against the window. I wondered what she wrote in it. I wondered whether she’d report the other professor who defected.

 Your flashlight waves, a wand in the
Deepest Vermont night.
Your disappointed moan ping-pongs
Off the silent mountains.
Jen buries the deaf orange tabby
Under the apple tree.
A marble marker. Third-grade sparkly
Stickers spell out: Jackson.
VI. The kitten, one of a litter of four to survive, occupied a special spot in the household. My German Shepherd, Jessie, had acted as a surrogate mother; my daughter, Jen, slept with the cat every night; my husband, Bobby, thought the animal was more human than feline. I admired Jackson’s ability to navigate without the basics, like hearing. I’d always suspected the reason the mother cat let the litter die was that they all had weaknesses we couldn’t see. I refused to let Jackson die, feeding him a mixture of cream and milk out of a doll’s bottle and carrying his six-week-old kitten body with me everywhere, wrapped in a heating pad.

When we moved from the city to a small house nine miles from the Canadian border, we found ourselves adapting quickly. Satin black nights with no street lights, strange howls echoing off the mountains surrounding us, complete silence. We should have given him more time before letting him out at night.

Traffic slows, beachgoers gawk.
The pile of coiled rolls glistens creamy brown
Circles of rattler. Eight, maybe ten feet.
We can sell it, I tell him. Let’s pick it up.
We circle alongside the diamond-marked spiral.
I watch the rearview mirror. The rattle.
He’s not dead. Watch out.
Uncoiling, the rattler strikes. Hits the door. Falls.
VII. Every day after moving to Florida and settling our new home, Bobby and I took the twenty-five-minute ride to New Smyrna Beach where he reveled in riding his Styrofoam boogie board over the aqua-blue waves. Within that first month, we tanned as I hadn’t since living outside for twelve hours of every day during my childhood. We browned our skins and rejuvenated our marriage.

It was a good move.

I bought a 1965 Dodge Dart and drove it—sans air conditioning—to and from my job teaching Freshman Comp at the local community college. Bobby tried to continue his career in carpentry. Our dogs learned that rolling in the backyard meant you invited fleas to your back.

We ran out of money and patience with each other when the beach cooled and the snowbirds flew back north.

As I drive away and the car’s headlights
lift from my newest victim,
I feel a murderer, though accidental,
And the victim, perhaps on purpose,
of society, history, technology.
The dead animals and the live ones,
our inexperience, our education,
We fail to connect the two.
VIII. On a vacation to Thailand with my good friend, Beth, I come face-to-face with the reality that I am single during a period of time in my life that I expect to be surrounded by family, children, grandchildren, but I am in Bangkok alone, with my single friend. It is her first time traveling west across the country, then west again to the East. We explore the country together, our hearts broken when we see magnificent elephants hobbled by chains, their spirits broken.

I watch quick little tuk-tuks maneuvering around the gray beasts. I listen to the tour leader telling us about the jobs pachyderms perform for human beings. I wonder why technology, trucks with motors, railway cars, tractors and chains have not replaced creatures that are, for the most part, gentle beings.

I can no longer ignore that responsibility to care for the other beings. When I returned home, I begin writing.

BEFORE THE RAZOR button ver 2

Dawn Reno Langley’s work includes 28 books (nonfiction, novels and children’s books); hundreds of articles in regional, national and international publications; poetry, short stories and essays. Her short fiction and essays have both won awards, and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes several times. She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In addition, she was a Fulbright scholar in Pakistan and received a fellowship to research civil rights in Mississippi from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Langley’s MFA in Fiction is from Vermont College and her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies is from The Union Institute and University.

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