Nearly dark when I got home from work. On the deck, a young raccoon was draining the hummingbird feeder, his hind paws on the rail, the long fingers tilting it so the sugar water ran down the side to his tongue. Seeing me, he ran along the rail, front legs hurrying to stay ahead of hind ones. Quick leap onto the tree, he scrambled head-first to the ground, black claws scratching his departure. He disappeared downslope into the darkening trees of the watershed. Further down, two Barred Owls called back and forth. They always sound muffled–like a mystic figure invoking spirits through a cloak-draped forearm. A hummingbird buzzed me as I lifted the feeder from its hook; impossible to see it against the shadows. A doe watched from the wildflowers where they edge out from the trees. I went to the kitchen for an apple, but when I returned, she was moving off, parting the fireflies in the undergrowth. So, I ate it and watched the sun dip beyond the far ridge, backlighting the trees like teeth in a comb. As it withdrew, the cicadas went silent. Then the birds. Even the breeze in the pines. It was like the momentary space an audience gives when the curtain goes up.
And I’m in a rowboat on San Diego Bay. I’m sunburned and thirsty, have an oar in each blistered hand, and my butt’s sore from the board seat. It’s late. I’m sixteen, and don’t want to head in, to surrender this independence, oblivious to my family’s concern. By myself for a day, I find rowing mindless enough that the day slips from my shoulders. I’m enjoying not being responsible; no thought about where I’m going; safe within the bay. The sun is setting over Point Loma, shadow pouring over the near shore. I rest the oars, water from their tips drops into ripples that flatten as they slip away. This is the first time I hear it: No gulls shrieking, no bus engines or car horns. Not even children playing on the sand. For a short time, the world holds its breath. I think no one has ever noticed this before. I lean forward, waiting for something significant to happen. But the city exhales: mothers call their children, buses pull away from curbs, a light changes and traffic starts. Darkness moves across the Bay, across the city, and all I know is there are things invisible in my everyday.
I left the apple core for the raccoon to find. Went in.
John Hicks is a narrative poet whose work has been published or accepted for publication by: Valparaiso Poetry Review, I-70 Review, Ekphrastic Review, Glint Literary Journal, Midnight Circus, Panorama, Mojave River Review, and others. He writes among the wild horse bands of northern New Mexico.