Hudson Pier Poets
The Occasional Groundhog
Preface: The Groundhog, in a Nutshell
How Young Beowulf
Overcame the Grendel and His Tribe on Candlemas Morn
in the Year of Our New Millennium 2001
of Little Consequence Ending with a Groundhog
Being and Groundhogginess
The Groundhog, in a Nutshell
Also known as marmota monax, woodchuck (Native American, "wojak"), and whistle-pig, this squirrel family member usually weighs in at less than 14 pounds, distributed along 17 to 20 inches, with 4 to 6 inches of tail. (The fellow is reportedly "edible," albeit by unspecified predators.) In summer, he binges on the grassy vegetation, clover and dandelions of pasture land (and gardens) in the Eastern and Central United States, Canada and Alaska, beefing up for his winter hibernation. He sleeps alone in a burrow of his own construction (with entry and exit), which is abandoned to rabbits and foxes when he goes mate-hunting in the spring. (Unless it's paved over for a shopping mall: "Groundhog buried alive. Twelve more years of winter -- in Phoenix.")
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
Observed on February 2, Candlemas Day marks the 6-week midpoint between the winter solstice (December 21) and vernal equinox (March 21). Its pagan origins are German, its Ur-Wetter-Voraussager, the badger ("Dachs"). Pennsylvania settlers reassigned these predictive powers to the more docile (and thus more edible?) groundhog. The earliest documented sighting of his shadow by the American Ersatz-Dachs was 1841. Allowing for a few missed recordings since 1886 (No-show's: too many imported dachshunds about.), the groundhog tends to see his shadow roughly 80% of the time, usually around 7:20 a.m.
If the sun shines on Groundhog
then half the fuel and half the hay.
So reads the Williams-pragmatic American version of the Old English aphorism. This year's prognosticator probably slept through Election 2000 (and would doubtless have miscalled it too), but when he emerges, what a shock:
Four more years of loyal shrubs;
twice the price for oil and drugs.
In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots' might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever rose, became a flame
And Vigor circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left: and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.
("The Groundhog" by
Richard Eberhart, from Collected Poems, 1930-1986, copyright1987
by Richard Eberhart. Used by permission of Oxford University Press. )
Young Beowulf Overcame the Grendel and His Tribe on Candlemas Morn in the
Year of Our New Millennium 2001
by Bertha Rogers
[Note: Footnoted words are Anglo-Saxon. See glossary below. Ed.]
Long ago, and far, far away from
the many-peopled city
of New York, in the westernmost regions of the Wild Cats
Mountains, lived old Farmer Hrothgar and his lovely wife,
Wealtheow. Rich was Hrothgar’s kingdom, with fields and
forests green as money, vistas wide and deep, rivers rich and
flowing. But no wilnian did Hrothgar and his livestock own.
Beneath the farmer’s fields wended
a cavernous borough,
rife with large and little Grendels, each spring’s groundhoglets
trained in war arts against Hrothgar, each filling his belly
with succulent blossoms meant for Hrothgar’s Holsteins. Each
winter the monsters, replete with harvest takings, slept
peacefully, undisturbed, beneath white and crusted snow.
The whistle-pigs lay snoring in their
stony soil, evil dreams in
their grizzled, abhorrent heads. Chief among them was Grendel,
repe field tunneler. (And all who had seen him
agreed him well-named, shambling field denizen, grim and graedig!).
The evil varmint caused no end of
pain to the farmer and
his profits, for, each summer, Grendel and his clan channeled
Hrothgar’s’s fields until lean harvests of spindly clover were
all the meadows’ yield. Too many shared the fragrant flowers!
Mighty Hrothgar, worried for his
future, the fate of his queen and
his Holsteins, held council with the Farm Bureau; he called Cornell
Cooperative, hired the rifle-slinging Long Islanders. Once,
he even retained the Lillith-Dog, promising her many bones, but
she, slayer of giants, vanquished only a child criminal.
It was soon clear that no one could
defeat the Grendels,
their singale saece, and Hrothgar moaned and mourned when
every Candlemas the woodchuck king came forward, shading
his eyes against the sun, hooting, "Six more weeks of winter, six
more weeks of sleep, my dears, and then food, food, food!"
Farmer Hrothgar could not vanquish him, his filthy greed.
Oh, the Grendels truly claimed Hrothgar’s mountain!
Now, in the year of our new millennium
2001, it happened that
young Beowulf, over Treadwell way, heard of the trolls, the
corruption they caused. Forthwith, he journeyed to Hrothgar’s
realm, bent on doing battle. He was watched, as he sped
up the hill on his trusty snowmobile, by Hrothgar’s able man,
Wulfgar the Hired, who ran fast to meet the noble, skidding
in his barn boots, sprayed when the snowmobile spun about.
Beowulf halted his stout mearas
before the cringing aide;
he descended, chest inflated, and marched to the farmer’s barn.
"Who are you, and why do you come here?" charged the hired man.
"I come to kill the Grendel," laughed the tall hero.
"I am more in fighting spirit than you, than all your migrant
workers, and I will take the troubles from Hrothgar’s door."
Hrothgar descended from his John
Deere, his breath icing
the white air, green and yellow tractor rumbling at his flank, and
spoke in a cold and distant voice. "I have heard of you, the success
you’ve had, that no Grendels camp under your enclave. But we
are too far gone, I think. What can you do to ease our pain?"
Beowulf spoke: "I on my steed will
vanquish the devil on
Candlemas Day. Wait and see." Hrothgar, celebrated farmer,
welcomed the hero; Beowulf partook of medo-ful manig
shanks of young lamb, fried potatoes. At last Beowulf pushed
back his bench, sated, and lay his noble body down on the guest
room bed. He pulled the pink chenille to his noble chin and
vowed, "I will not aldre linnan to these world-dregs."
The very next morning, February 2,
the day dawned bright,
ready, as usual to pay tribute to the Grendel-King. (Even the sun
bowed to the demon’s power!). Grendel woke, stretched and
scratched his lice-ridden shape; he commenced to travel
from his winter-chamber, from shaft to hollow tunnel, growling
his certain triumph. Up, up he sped, to the entrance hole.
But this time Grendel was greeted
as he never expected,
famous flat ears rent by the snarl of Beowulf’s wundorlic
nowmobile, crackling drone of engine on icy crust. Aghast,
Grendel covered his ears, rose up, and was smacked by the
snowmobile’s sharp skis. He rose again, looking for the sun,
searching for sanctuary, but he was never to find safety again!
The monster fought and fought, but
he was not the
snowmobile’s equal; it ran back and aloft, skis flattening
the beast. At last Grendel feorh-alegde. Beowulf the young,
the unconquered, had taken the victory. The avenging hero
cut off Grendel’s ears, raising them high in the darkening sky.
From ridge to ridge every remaining
Grendel ran, escaping
to the freshly-plowed road, only to be smashed by Beowulf’s
backup troops in their all-terrain vehicles. No more would
Grendel and his rotten tribe rule in Hrothgar’s domain; no
more would the pendulous black and white Holsteins go hungry,
the dairy industry be deprived of its propaganda drink.
That night, there was high rejoicing
on the mountain, Hrothgar’s
consort passing wide the cup, Beowulf boasting and reiterating,
face aglow with the taste of dairy, mustache white from milk.
 wilnian: peace
 repe: fierce
 graedig: greedy
 singale saece: incessant strife
 mearas: steed
 medo-ful manig: many a mead-cup
 aldre linnan: lose my life
 wundorlic: wondrous
 feorh-alegde: lay down his life
© 2001 Bertha
(Bertha Rogers’s new
translation of Beowulf (with illustrations) was published in 2000
by Birch Brook Press. She is the Director of Bright Hill Press, the annual
"Speaking The Words Writers & Poets Tour & Festival," and creator
of the comprehensive resource, The New York State Literary Curators Tree
<www.NYSLittree.org.> Her poems are widely published; among her poetry
collections is A House of Corners (Three Conditions Press, Maryland
Poetry Review Chapbook Contest Winner; Fall, 2000). [See review
in the January issue. Ed.])
of Little Consequence Ending with a Groundhog
The rubber on the sidewalk
has completed self-actualization.
No more ambivalence
and not afraid of the dark.
One by one these flakes
strike the windshield.
behind enemy lines.
If you stay out too long
in the snow your hands
will get icesolated.
Our five-year-old says
just in case we’ve forgot.
I follow white rivulets
of toothpaste down the drain.
Happy my lover’s kiss
leases space in my mouth.
O woodchuck please forgive
all the so much we ask of you.
Responsible each year
for the music and the keg.
(Thom Ward's bio appears
following his essay in this issue.)
Ramapo Ralph, the long-standing Official
Of Northern Jersey, has grown disenchanted with his job.
"I see my shadow every day," he says. "It doesn't prove
A thing. We don't even speak any more. We're like two
Commuters fighting a silent guerilla war over the last seat
On the 7:06 to Newark." His boss says, "But we need you,
Ralph. The kids love you." "No,"
replies Ralph, "they love
Those hollow chocolate groundhogs with the candy-button
Eyes--graven in my image. The rest of the time, they're
Trying to run me down with their bicycles like a prairie
Dog." Ralph's angst stems, in part, from yet another
Denial of his application to be promoted to an Easter
Bunny position in Basking Ridge or
"I would've relocated," Ralph says. "No problem."
His boss has other ideas. "You're an institution, Ralph,"
He said. "Yeah," Ralph grumbled, "a mental institution.
From here on in, you're getting six more weeks of winter--
Even on Independence Day. And don't wake me again!"
of Pennsylvania is the country's Übergroundhog. The town's
first official Groundhog Day celebration was announced by The Punxsutawney
Spirit in 1886. The name derives from the Native American "ponksad-uteney,"
meaning, "town of the sandflies." Ed.]
Here at the dead end of winter
We dream of sunshine,
Pools of it over green islands of lawn:
Robins sing; small animals poke in
And out of dark burrows.
They race across the grass,
Past fire engine tulips,
Stop short, cock their heads,
Noses, whiskers twitching
At the brisk spring breezes.
Then we wake up
To gray, haunted windows,
Not a squeak of sun,
Bare branches scratching
And we turn over,
Let the wind’s song lull us
To fresh slumbers,
Tuck ourselves back in,
Afraid of our own shadows.
The first groundhog emerges
At winter’s midpoint and, finding it sunny,
Retreats to his lair where no shadows are,
Only other groundhogs together, brown bundles of fur,
Small anti-Jungians, mistrustful of shadows;
He then returns to what he knows, little solipsist,
Which is that he exists
In all his essential groundhogginess.
But he’s not so sure of anything else
In that world where images change with the light
And edges once sharp grow fuzzy,
Shrink and disappear.
What groundhog evidence can he amass
Of that strange aboveground world
To demonstrate it even
Is? Better burrow in
A while longer.