Possum at the Compost

The opussum is a beast as big as a pretty beagle, of grey cullour; yt hath a head like a swyne; eares, feet, and tayle like a ratt; she carries her young ones under her belly, in a piece of her owne skyn, like as in a bagg, which she can open and shutt, to lett them out or take them in, as she pleaseth, and doth therein lodge, carry, and suckle her young, and eates in tast like a pig. William Strachey (1572-1621)

The possum’s pink nose
on its heart-shaped white face
round black ears, a widow’s peak
peeks out from the side of
the composter, also known as
my Rubbermaid Restaurant
I take out scraps in the moonlight
fruit peels, meat trims, uneaten rice
a little tuna for its tiny brain

As usual it falls over dead
open-mouthed crooked grin
showing fifty sharp teeth
and starts to stink
it has only awn hairs
clean but sparse
and a naked tail
thus no use for a fur
or a handsome hat

I leave it to the mercy
of its autonomic nervous system
same as in dinosaur days
in a few minutes, a few hours
it will eat and go
somewhere elsewhere

dim as the night sky
thus no use as a pet
only a survivor of eons
it eats anything
grooms off ticks
climbs a tree
finds a hole

Didelphis virginianus
its two-pronged uterus
fits a two-pronged penis
its embryos are like
many peas in two pea-pods
twenty to a teaspoon
they slip out early
cling to mother’s fur
with front claws
climb into her pouch
with nipples
that feed only thirteen
of the climbing peas


The thirteen burgeon
into little clean white possums
crawl to her back
hold on and bounce
facing every which way
random buds from her body
they look like love
and grow fast

Colonists found
a never-ending supply
of pigs of the woods
easy-to-kill thrifty meat
meat that falls over dead
of its own accord
Appalachian mountaineers
ate it stuffed, roasted, fried,
creamed and gravied
with yams

Stuffed on possum
they sang, still sing
of possum holler
of playin’ possum
possum in a gum tree
possum in a ‘simmon tree
possum in a pot
and five pounds of possum
in my headlights tonight

Poem by Jill Carpenter

Jill has worked as a science writer, college instructor, and book seller. Her writing appears in Creative Nonfiction, ISLE, American Biology Teacher, and many others.