Two Squirrels

When I was in college, I once witnessed something small but remarkable. I saw a pair of squirrels approaching each other on a telephone wire outside my apartment. They drew close together, slowing down and sniffing each other. I wondered what would happen but immediately found out. After another sniff, one of the squirrels backed up a few inches and then carefully swung down so it was hanging upside down on the wire, holding on with all four feet. The other squirrel, still on the top of the wire, then proceeded to cross over the other squirrel. When that squirrel had passed over, the first squirrel righted itself on the top of the wire and both squirrels continued on their way. It took just a few seconds and then it was over. I was fortunate to witness this small moment of cooperation in nature. Or perhaps it might be characterized as a display of dominance and submission, even though, to me, both squirrels looked to be about the same size. Whatever the case, they found a quick solution to their highwire roadblock.

This memory inspired the following poem, which my notes indicate was written about four or five years later, on 21 September 1990 in Foster City, California:

summer heat—

two squirrels

meet on a wire

The poem was published in Frogpond XIV:1, Spring 1991, page 7. It was also anthologized in Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, Tuttle, 1993, page 291, and in André Duhaime’s Haïku sans frontières: Une anthologie mondiale, Les Éditions David, 1998, page 250. It also appeared in my chapbook For a Moment, King’s Road Press, 2009 (as a one-liner over pages 8 and 9), and in a few other locations. I’m not sure when, but by at least July of 1994, a poet identifying himself as “Entropos” had posted the following parody on an America Online poetry discussion page, turning the poem in an entirely different direction:

barbecue heat—

two squirrels

meat on a wire

In addition, the artist Gary LeBel created a haiga featuring my poem, which was published in Reeds #5, 2007, page 77, adding his own interpretation, choosing to not even show the squirrels:

My poem, of course, does not say what happened next—that act of cooperation I saw while in college. In the poem, readers see just a quick squirrel confrontation on a hot summer day. Nor does the poem even suggest what happened, leaving readers to wonder about that moment of possible tension. Perhaps readers don’t even feel tension, although I hope the reference to summer heat might hint at a brief heating of the squirrels’ relationship. So, I hope the poem works for readers without knowing what happened, but for me the story of what I originally witnessed still comes to mind. Or as Paul Harvey might put it, now you know “the rest of the story.”

—7 February 2022