Samantha DeFlitch 

The Squonk 

One day I will make myself so arbitrarily small that even the snow fleas, 
congregate in a gully, will miss my tracks. Not nothing, but close—

like the squonk who, racing moonlight in the lumberwood, is desperate
to avoid sightlines. Good hunters can follow the squonk’s trail,

track it to its natural, watery conclusion. I am not a good hunter,
though once I held a Ruger rifle against my shoulder blade—

this making me a man. I’ve got no finger for shooting game, but I have
an ear for birdsong: Sam Peabody and yank-yank; the dee-dee 

of a busybody chickadee; who-cooks-for-you coming from the fence 
post on the glen—that’s my understanding of the natural world.

Perhaps it is good to be a poet, to give physical form to the open mouth
of a titmouse delivering tell-offs; a starling imitating a car alarm.
Still, I struggle with the squonk (the language of the imperceptible is silence).
Unlike the songbird, or a nebby squirrel, it cannot be coaxed 

into the open with a handful of suet, so I learn to speak its favorite word—
which is no word—as it bolts for cover in the Clear Creek Forest.

Legend has it that once, near Mont Alto, a young man captured a squonk
by mimicking its pleading call, coaxed it into a bag—the man 

suddenly found his burden lightened when the creature, having been 
seen in its true form, at once dissolved into a pool of tears.

Perhaps it is not a good thing to be a poet, carrying a whole lot of nothing 
in my gathering bag. I wonder: who are you that longs to be perceived? 

Who are you that is devastated by it?

Things I Tell Colleen

The Virginia opossum was admitted for severe burns 
caused by a third alarm house fire that barely grazed 
the surface of the morning news. Carelessness, intention—
the fire’s cause matters zip to the opossum who was 
delivered to the rescue center with eleven joeys clinging 
to the blistered fur of her back, like a life loaded up with
sick aunts, lunchbox duty, scribbled notes from a brother—
all of us attached to these clutching, sacred things. Fire 
is fire to all animals. Destruction is—whether 
a match was struck with purpose or neglect. 

I think not infrequently about this nameless opossum, 
about a den gone up in sudden flames and the deep 
burnt patch beneath her eye, her paws gauzed, patched
and gently held at the emergency clinic for wildlife.
Perhaps there is still time to change. I did not light those
rafters ablaze, but all the same, I hold a single lamp 
to the floorboards of my life—beneath each one, a peep, 
a squonk, a potential lodge that in my indifference I have
overlooked. I must be more than these days of single focus,
unattentive, stumbling recklessly in the rapid dark.

From the author: These poems are both from my current manuscript, which addresses environmental crisis in the Ohio River Valley. I’m interested in perception of the natural world: what is perceived, and for what purpose. Yet as Ada Limón reminds us about perception, the animal “never cares what you need when you’re watching.” That’s largely the tension between these poems. And while the squonk is—likely—a mythical creature, the opossum in “Things I Tell Colleen” is very real, and was cared for at the Center for Wildlife.

Samantha DeFlitch is the author of Confluence (Broadstone Books, 2021). Her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Colorado Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Appalachian Review, and elsewhere. She has received support from Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, the Artist Residency at Hog Island, and the University of New Hampshire. She lives in New Hampshire.