One afternoon I was driving in downtown Lexington and saw a raccoon running along the sidewalk. Actually it was less a run and more a determined walk alongside the feet of the lawyers and businessmen who populate our downtown during the day. Men and women wearing suits and ties (as opposed to the burglar’s outfit of the raccoon), but ever in a hurry, knowing where they’re going. And the raccoon certainly knew where to go, straight to a city trash receptacle, disappearing inside, I assume for a bite of lunch, probably discards from the many lunch diners who line our streets. So, our lunch was also the raccoon’s.
When Sherry and I were discussing a theme for this issue, that event resurfaced. Talking of the way certain animals have made homes beside us, invited or not, we decided it would be worthwhile to call for work that considers the way man has unwittingly created urban environments where certain animals thrive, often just out of sight.
And it seems to us that the imagination and sensitivities shown in these fine poems, narratives, and artwork have captured this accidental coexistence very well. There are animals beside and within us. Either inside or outside our houses, on the streets, on the roof, in the air, seen or unseen. Escaped lab rats, rock doves, alligators (perhaps in certain cities), coyotes, roaches, more. None really belong and yet they all do. So here they are, in words and artwork which draw a range of meanings from these urban animals, uncovering the sometimes startling ways that they intersect our concerns and reflect the human world.
When Dave suggested “Animals in the City” as the theme for our issue of qarrtsiluni I was skeptical. After all, I live in the country. My experience of urban animals is limited to the chipmunks that burrow under the decorative boulder in front of the clinic where I work. Those and the occasional unfortunate bug that survives the poison spray to raise screaming panic among my co-workers, women who are calm in the face of disastrous human illness. I was charmed, however, by Dave’s tale of the enterprising raccoon and I trust his instincts as an editor, so I agreed. The result outstripped my fondest expectations. I was surprised by the variety of animals who live among our urbanites and suburbanites: Birds — from choreographed grackles to a cowboy cattle egret — and squirrels of course, and a wide variety of cats, but also bears, coyotes, rattlesnakes, a lion, possums, mice, skinks, box turtles, a stag, bees, mayflies, an aardvark, and a pantheon of Greek gods masquerading as dogs in Athens. In addition to Athens, these animals live in Los Angeles, London, Glasgow, Vancouver, France, Sweden, Germany, The Philippines, Nigeria, and Australia. These animals charm and they witness disaster. I was impressed by the way our furred, feathered, scaled, and exoskeletoned cousins adapt to what we’ve done to their world, and I was gratified at the variety and quality of the submissions we received. Thank you to Dave for the suggestion and for sharing the hard work of choosing, to Dave Bonta who gave us this opportunity, and to everyone who afforded us the privilege of reading and featuring their work.
For bios of the editors, see the call for submissions.
Rosemary Mosco (website) is a field naturalist by training who is interested in connecting people with environmental science through field experiences and creative communication projects. She has worked in diverse science communications roles with organizations such as the National Park Service and Mass Audubon. Her science cartoons have appeared in many publications, including The Globe and Mail and Torontoist. Other projects have included science-based videos, web sites, podcasts, and games. She holds an M.S. degree from the Field Naturalist Program at the University of Vermont. She completed her thesis work on web-based and place-based climate change communication.
(with a chorus for jays and bees)
The rosemary spills from the clench of the pot
the flux and the sex
of a gravelly musk.
Necessity sniffs at those ravels of leaves
and leaves her with flowers,
In the spice and the peace of the sprawl of the morning,
her joy ruffles up,
the bee from its bloom.
HKYE! HKYE! HKYE!
Rosemary Starace (website) lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a small city in the middle of a big, hilly forest. She’s the author of Requitements and co-editor of Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv, with Moira Richards and Lesley Wheeler. Her work has appeared in Orion, Blueline, Studio, and elsewhere, including other issues of qarrtsiluni.
by Tammy Ramsey
against city ordinance
she serves up dinner.
The foxes prefer bread;
Possum will eat anything
which will lie in the yard
untouched by any animal
until sun and decomposition
take them away.
She began counting in July,
keeping coded track
on the kitchen calendar:
MR+5B when the mama raccoon
arrived late pulling, like moons,
her five babies;
3F for the brother fox,
a new litter still traveling together;
1P+1P+1P for the three possum
who might really be just one
arriving over and over again.
For a time it was unclear how many —
at least three, she thought,
but maybe even four or five.
Then one night
six appeared at once,
her eye not quite registering at first
from behind the curtain’s edge
just how many there were.
She counted and recounted,
the six foxes playing like happy puppies.
She had wanted, just then,
a witness to turn to,
someone else to see what she saw,
but with no one else there,
she watched until they left,
then recorded: 6F
Tammy Ramsey teaches English and journalism at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Her poems have appeared in New Growth: Recent Kentucky Writings, The Louisville Review, and Kentucky’s Twelve Days of Christmas. She earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Kentucky and a master of fine arts in writing from Spalding University.
Cages stuffed with finches swung
in bunches at the shrine
on the jammed Bangkok street,
and on a bench below them
sat a girl, sunken-eyed, lap
crammed with jewels she put on
only when passersby would pay
to make her dance their prayer up
before the god. She shrank, lips
parted, panting, like the birds.
I had coins for one cage—
the scuffle, snapping bones,
the bursting out the door,
the lucky ones flung skyward.
But not enough for her.
Kristin Camitta Zimet is the Editor of The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. Her poems are in the full-length collection Take in My Arms the Dark and in many anthologies and journals, including Lullwater Review, Poet Lore, and Crab Orchard Review. Once a city girl, she is a naturalist in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
She nests in a sprawling tulip poplar
on a street of rental properties,
fast cars and fire crackers
peopled by many colors and tongues.
She scolds me
if the dogs and I venture too closely.
Yet I anticipate her dashes for acorns,
pine cones, pizza crusts and potato chips.
An adept tightrope arialist,
she escapes neighborhood cats
by zipping across power lines.
Watch her run, she hypnotizes—
as that bad-hair-day tail flexes
at every stride.
She has become bolder
perhaps knowing my dogs and I
pose no threat. These days
she brazenly watches us cross her path,
trespass on her domain,
our gazes locked in a daily stand-off.
Since we keep moving
avoiding confrontation or chase
I suspect she thinks
New Englander by birth, Kentuckian by choice! My undergrad and graduate studies were at the Ohio State University, then I went and pursued a fun degree in in Fashion Design & Clothing Construction. My original designs (clothing and accessories) are available at The Bazaar, a juried portion of The Lexington Rescue Mission Thrift Store at Limestone & Louden in Lexington, KY. I have had poetry, creative non-fiction and flash fiction published and won multiple awards including one from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. In addition to my writing and creating wearable art, I’m a watercolor and a fiber artist. Many of my contemporary tapestries include yarn I have spun myself.