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Living with Squirrels

Listen to a performance by the New Hampshire Master Chorale conducted by Dan Perkins:

  • Score: $3 (for reproduction rights; minimum purchase of 10 required; additional charge for hard copies)
  • For SATB chorus and piano
  • Secular text (settings of texts about experiencing nature by New Hampshire poet Liz Ahl)
  • 13:00
  • Difficulty rating (1-5): 5
  • View a PDF score excerpt
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During my a sabbatical, I was privileged to hear a reading of recent works by my friend and colleague Liz Ahl, poet and then-chair of the English Department at Plymouth State University. They were about her interactions with nature—specifically, her transition from a more urban existence to life in central New Hampshire. When Dan Perkins asked me to write a new piece for a New Hampshire Master Chorale concert entitled Harvest & Home, Liz’s works sprang to mind immediately. These settings are dedicated to Liz, Dan, and all of us who are, in the words of the New Hampshire Master Chorale’s motto, “creating our own culture in the woods of New Hampshire.”

The Mushroom Poem

Each day the white mushroom grows.

At first, I thought it was
a dog's lost ball nestled in
a mangy patch of lawn. For days,
the crows won't approach it; when
they finally dare, they circle
it warily — it is so
white and foreign in the grass.

Each morning I look out the
kitchen window consumed with
expectation and dread. Part
of me loves the mushroom. Part
of me wants it gone.

Each day the white mushroom grows,
widens, yellow- specked, stretches —
until, finally, I have
to turn back from the window,
to start writing this poem.

I don't know about mushrooms.
I'm learning birds, and a few
plants - grosbeak, checkerberry,
titmouse, pinks, northern flicker.

This mushroom is the ghost of
Robert Frost. No, May Swenson.
No, Thoreau. Never mind
who — I'm writing this poem
which grows like the white mushroom

and I am skeptical and
wary like the crows; I am
black against it, skittish and
citified, never having
written a mushroom poem


Driving home nights,
as I slow for the ragged, patchy asphalt
done in lumpy layers over the years,
piecemeal, I hear the spring peepers'
revival meeting in the greening fields
on either side of the road.

Even with windows rolled,
late NPR blaring old news anew,
work heavy on my mind —

they cut through
with their insistent song,
so happy in the damp grass
so happy to see the gigantic beams
of my brights as they sweep past,
two crazy moons
they want to serenade.

Living with Squirrels

After you have realized
that they aren't ghosts or, worse, rats,
you will have to try to evict them.

Stand on the deck and glare up
at the holes they've chewed
under the awning and at the roof's peak.

Stand in the yard and glare up
at the slits and gaps they've widened —
and these are only the ones you can see.

Stand in the yard, hands on hips,
top of the food chain. Notice that the squirrels
have more doors than you have windows.

At the hardware store downtown, let the guys
humor you for a while, smiling gently,
offering various poisons, traps, sonic devices.

You can't yet know what you'll know later,
and so try them all, feverish and single-minded,
bent on a simple mission.

Nothing will work. You will be upset at first
that the hardware guys didn't let on, but later
you will understand like they do.

Sure, a small victory or two — seal up
a couple of reachable holes, discover a dead one
in the basement — certain the poison did its trick.

The Hav-a-Hart trap's the clear winner —
snapping shut on the little red bastards
who can't resist peanut butter. They rattle

the bars of the cage, pausing to shit nervously
and munch on Skippy Super Chunk. Put the trap
in a cardboard box, in the trunk of your car.

Drive at least five miles away, across the river.
Let the bugger go. Do this a dozen times.
Start racking up the miles. Begin wondering

if you are repeatedly trapping the same
two squirrels. Consider spray-painting them.
Consider drowning them in the river.

A season will pass like this. Drink lots
of bourbon, which is the color of a red squirrel.
Broomstick the ceiling to startle them from chewing

on god-knows-what up there, in the space
between the first and second floors. Imagine
the wreckage, battles between the reds

and the flying grays, listen to them squeak,
squeal, scurry around. Worry you will lose
your mind. Then, somehow, reach the day

when you have either trapped and relocated most
or just become accustomed to them. The trap
has been idle and empty for days,

the poisons used or tossed, the sealed holes
unplugged. Bring your bourbon and crackers to the deck
at dusk. Feel the reds peering at you from their holes.

Tilt your head back and watch the grays
glide from the peak of the roof. Listen for the scritch
of a bat or two under the eaves. Drink your bourbon

and head in for the night. Leave the crackers.

—Liz Ahl

The poems “The Mushroom Poem,” “Peepers,” and “Living with Squirrels” are all Copyright ©2008 by Elizabeth Ahl, and set here by permission of the author. These poems were first published in her book A Thirst That’s Partly Mine (Sleepy Hollow, NY: Slapering Hol Press, 2008), winner of the Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition.

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Jonathan Santore
Plymouth, NH
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