Joseph Bathanti

The Raccoon
February 21, 2018 Bathanti Joseph

The Raccoon


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, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-14) and recipient of the North Carolina Award in Literature, is author of nineteen books. Bathanti is the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education at Appalachian State University. A new volume of poems, Light at the Seam, was published by LSU Press in 2023.