Like an old Italian man,
wobbling from too much wine,
lost on his way home from bocce,
he strayed into our yard –
confused, overdressed in black
overcoat and banded gray fedora,
the gamey smell of deNobili cigars.
When I opened the front door, he turned.
He’d lost an eye a long time ago.
He seemed to lift a hand:
Perhaps a very small vino?
Sweating, clearly sick,
he struggled to stand.
I thought it rabies.
But it was distemper,
the Animal Control Officer,
explained. Young, lovely,
he apologized for what he had to do.
The raccoon, scrabbled into Joan’s basilico,
shivered on the stone wall that grottoed
the weathered statue of the Madonna
in a bed of Easter lilies abloom –
tail soaked, lusterless, rings faded.
The young man placed the cage
in the shade of the Dogwood.
He was gentle with the snare pole.
Out of kindness, for us, he said:
Sometimes they can be cured.
The raccoon watched fearlessly –
a Station of the Cross.
When I was very little, my grandfather,
Compadre Paolo, ate Sunday dinner with us.
He twirled his spaghetti against a soup spoon.
The way he lifted his hand:
More bread, more wine.
But he used that hand, as well, for No More.
Aspettare, he’d growl. Wait!
His voice: iron rust. Bone on bone.
What was he waiting for? He’d had enough.
He wanted to disappear.
The raccoon offered himself,
bowed, and gave his head to the halo.
Joseph Bathanti is former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-14) and recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Award for Literature. He is the author of eight books of poetry: Communion Partners; Anson County; The Feast of All Saints; This Metal, nominated for the National Book Award, and winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award; Land of Amnesia; Restoring Sacred Art, winner of the 2010 Roanoke Chowan Prize, awarded annually by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association for best book of poetry in a given year; Sonnets of the Cross; and Concertina, winner of the 2014 Roanoke Chowan Prize. His novel, East Liberty, won the 2001 Carolina Novel Award. His novel, Coventry, won the 2006 Novello Literary Award. His book of stories, The High Heart, won the 2006 Spokane Prize. They Changed the State: The Legacy of North Carolina’s Visiting Artists, 1971-1995, his book of nonfiction, was published in early 2007. His new book of personal essays, Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, winner of the Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction, is from Mercer University Press. A new novel, The Life of the World to Come, was released from University of South Carolina Press in late 2014. His new volume of poems, The 13th Sunday after Pentecost, will be released by LSU Press in 2016. Bathanti is Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC and serves as The Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence in Asheville, NC.