The Night

(12-16 June 1994) after Henry Livingston, Jr.

The cool, evening air sinks into the dirt on the corner of Shirley Way and Gilbert Avenue, awakens creatures we might rather live elsewhere. Spiders reconnoiter; patient salamanders peer out from among roots, under rocks; ear wigs climb out from cracks; silverfish slither from the wood pile; sow bugs climb over each other to chew the tender unfortunate leaves of peony that have wilted and fallen in the heat of day. As shadows extend from hidden places, snails and slugs slowly, on trails of slime, make their way to the hole-ridden holly hocks and to the stubs they have left of the dahlias, vegetables leftover from previous nights. Meanwhile, under the surface, among roots of white silk lining its neat little tunnels, the mole sniffs and listens, inspecting, inspecting its twisting domain, deciding whether to farm or to hunt, whether to creep quietly and wait under the lawn or to dig for the tender and tasty grubs, for the long juicy night crawlers, a precious livelihood of subterranean gifts without which it would starve or be forced to move into the dark, into the large unfriendly dark of hard dirt and rock. Mixed emotions—to consider our neighbors’ malice toward this disturber of gardens, under the yard we humans think we own, our carefully planted flowers, our walkways, our well-ordered homes this temporary crust of our things over centuries of alluvial marsh settled into clay, this harmless little mammal we never see trying to be inconspicuous as we sleep, but failing to conceal, from the morning light, the mounded paths, dirt shoved up between the lawn and the sidewalk, behaviors we deem inappropriate.