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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, February 7, 2017.
About this Poem 

“This poem is a riff on the idea of ‘playing dead,’ which has always fascinated me a little—what would it feel like, could it feel like, not to be in motion of one kind or another? Plus, where I live in Texas we have a lot of possums. Recently one chose to play dead on top of a fence in my backyard—frightened by my dogs. I was amazed how motionless the possum remained, how she fooled me—utterly—until she upped and ran.”
—Sheila Black

Possums

A kind of thrill—to lie on a road
and flatten yourself,

white fur like a ball of winter,

like the March blossoms on the fruit trees,
each one folded in like

the fledgling that never made it
from the nest.

They do this when they feel threatened,
remain motionless

even when curious people come prod
them with sticks,

stiffening their pearly claws as a tree stiffens
its twigs for winter. What is it to be dead?

The possums know—that eternal watchfulness
by which the dead in their stately wisdom

watch us
who keep moving.

Copyright © 2017 by Sheila Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Sheila Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sheila Black

Sheila Black

Sheila Black is the author of Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017).