To appreciate squirrels
you have to walk toward Peterborough with Eric Gamalinda,
down the steep part of High Street
where there are woods on both sides of the road.
It should be a day or two before the summer solstice,
you must be discussing feng shui—
when you suddenly see a squirrel on its hundredth daily crossing
from one side of the road to the other.
Forget that Eric is an important poet in Manila—
Eric says that everyone in Manila is an important poet—
this isn’t a matter of authority.
What matters is that Eric sees the squirrel and shouts,
Look at that amazing thing!
And immediately you notice that the tail of a squirrel
is the incarnation of impulsive grace,
and you stand there motionless as it maneuvers that tail,
shaking off your received opinions, your discriminatory
attitudes, until it has disrobed itself
of you, and is only itself.
And you recall a morning when you were new,
when you still believed you could float through the window
if you pleased, when a squirrel came in from the fire escape
and stood on your crazy quilt, contemplating you eye to eye,
the only thing that’s ever come to your bed unbidden.
Oh, but then it was your mother, screaming, screaming,
as if she’d caught a molester.
But now that squirrel’s there again, starting to cross over,
and you’re standing with Eric Gamalinda,
seeing that thing, as if you were in Eden and
it had no name, as if it were the first one,
unspoiled by the success of its adaptation to your world,
and you think, my God, it is amazing—
a word you never thought you’d see in a poem,
much less put in one yourself,
but you’ve just been walking with Eric Gamalinda,
who comes from a place where there are no squirrels,
who spoke without irony when he praised the squirrel,
who gave you permission
to appreciate it.