06 April 2009

Brendan Galvin

[from Brendan Galvin's Wampanoag Traveler: Being, in Letters, the Life and Times of Loranzo Newcomb, American and Natural Historian, Louisiana State University, 1989]

V [excerpt]

There is one in this country
whom an army cannot make
step to roadside
or increase his pace, which is
commonly no more than
a hand-gallop. For he goes
head-down and teetering,
mincing along like a tall-heeled
trull in his cloud of
rough hair, which can be black
or brown, but is always
whitewashed along the backbone
until the tailtip. . . .

The Abnakis call him "skunk"
and make large claims
concerning the flavor of
his meat. To stop his forward motion
you merely stamp your foot, but
should he then stamp his own
and begin a backwards shuffle
with tail erect and flirting,
shoot and strike your mark,
lest he spout a liquor on you
yellow as the yolk of an egg,
which can blind for a long hour,
and whose stink, though you wring
yourself hard and sweat
many times to the purpose,
will not disperse.

. . . These skunks
snout around for grubs, beetles,
ant hills and all eggs,
so the ground is funneled
as if a drove of swine has passed . . .

The engine of this trouble is
a cistus or bladder holding near
half a pint, and which can be emptied
in a single squirt. I am told
that this organ, when thrown into a fire,
cracks like a musket shot but doesn't
stink. . . .

This poisonous stuff, which is
capable of rendering a man
eight hours senseless, will later
revive the heart and work
excellent feats in cheering
the spirit, and being a powerful
ophthalmic, so enriches the eyes
when they're anointed,
that without spectacles the smallest
print may be read.
Taken inwardly or sniffed outwardly,
it cures fits, and disperses megrims
and vertigoes. When you
smell this ordure many days together,
and do not come at the reason
in discovering your corn and
hay crops ruined,
then look to the trees,
where for certain will roost
a horned owl stymied as to night or day
when he stooped
upon this delicate fellow.

Wampanoag Traveler: Being, in Letters, the Life and Times of Loranzo Newcomb, American and Natural Historian : A Poem

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