A mole is three times the length of a cat’s paw. It lies limp and heavy beneath the picnic table, its pelt gritty from being rolled back and forth in the wet sand. The body of the mole feels like a velvet sock filled with hamburger. When I pick it up, it molds to the cup of my hand, warm and gravid with the heaviness of death.

The tail is half the length of the body, dark and coarsely haired. It provides a convenient handle by which to elevate the mole from its sandy bier to the top of the picnic table for closer inspection. Turtle-like feet protrude from the front corners of the mole, scaled and clawed. At the heel of each backwards-facing hand grow dark stiff hairs like eyelashes, curled outward in an arc towards the elbow hidden deep within the body of the animal.

The rear paws are frail and sharp-clawed. The bony feet and tiny tendons are clothed in naked skin, pink as a new-hatched bird, with a few darker scales, resembling those on an adult bird’s foot. They jut out from the body of the mole, angular and startling.

The stellar appendage that gives the star-nosed mole its name radiates pink tendrils too delicate to call tentacles. When I was a child I had a playmate deformed by Thalidomide; her tiny nubbin of a hand, issuing from her shoulder with doll’s fingers outstretched, is recalled to me by the nose of the mole. Deep within the petals of the mole’s snout are two nostrils like those of a piglet, round and perfectly paired.

Beneath the nose is the mouth, a sharp-toothed slit. The eyes and ears are invisible in the fur, a covering so fine that a fingertip stroking across it cannot feel it; you must turn your own pink appendages over and brush it with the near-invisible hairs embedded in the knuckles before your skin knows that it is there. Damp sand falls from it easily, pellets of earthen rain spilling from a dark-furred sky.

A dead mole that spends the night in a refrigerator stiffens, chills, and fades. The interior of its Ziploc mausoleum grows foggy with condensed moisture. The pink ebbs from toes, palms, tendrils even as a dawn cloud fades into an overcast day. The mole rests in the pink primate palms of a writers’ circle, its dark weight passing widdershins from hand to hand.

Laid to rest beneath a heavy rock the shape of a matate, the mole is greeted by throngs of darting ants. Tomorrow it will be a perfectly flat oval, sinking into the formicary soil of the ants’ nest, the soil-dark coat fading too to gray.

Entombing the mole beneath the stone, my knees pressed into the wet moss, I arose stained with water and soil. I envisioned the ants rendering the darkness of the mole into wet redness and slick grey-white bone, breaching the barrier of the mole’s somber coat in the lightless world from which it was torn, precise as a mortuary of coroners.

Cremains resemble rocks and sand and dust, calcium phosphate eroding into powder, the floured and gritty remnants of meal ground in a metate. The veiny teeth in a burro’s jaw jut out from the smooth curve of bone, the slickness of desert pavement alongside the gritty velvet of sandstone. Carstruck forms lie flat along the roadways, baked into pancakes of feathers and skin. The assumed aridity of death, the lightness of sunlit husks emptied of life, brushes tenderly against my soul like the pink tendril of a mole.

The clean lines of stately bones take on new connotations in the mouldering darkness, mold-slick with the humidity of flesh. Wet death is heavy, sinking, somber. The subterranean processes of damp things, the humidous imbalance of ergot and smut, mildew and mites, turns my eyes into itching, weeping redness, pink nose into dripping rain. The sand clings to my skin, damp and abrasive.

The mole and I lie pressed down by a metate out of place, flattened into the humid soil, reborn into the chitinous bodies of ants. The mole sinks back into darkness, into the deep womb of the earth, unblemished by dampness. I rise up, shedding the moisture of moss, comforted by the hopeful dryness of sunlight and air.



Joined February 2008

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