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Sunday, 17 May 2009



Raccoon on roof, early morning: photo by Carsten Volkwein, 2007

Ascension of Venus
better late than never low in the southwest

Full moon a half degree wide
just after sunset peeping

Later still, indigo cheesecloth night

Redwood cloaked in fog
raccoons moving from floor to floor,
from room to room
in the fog,

with a sound like thin paper tearing

Raccoons in a tree: photo by Gary J. Wood, 2006

File:Raccoon (Procyon lotor) 2.jpg

Raccoon (procyon lotor): photo by Darkone, 2005


Dale said...

Tom, the raccoons remind me to tell you how just now in the compost bin I met a young possum out, no doubt, for late night snacks of old beans.

One day last summer in broad daylight a raccoon walked down the middle of our street. It wasn't deterred by cars or people. Rabid? Yeah, maybe. More frequently at dusk I see them lurking around cat food bowls.

TC said...


Tonight I fed our raccoon pack twenty-three fresh-baked croissants. I do worry about the cholestorol though.

It's told that a raccoon would live a "natural" life of c. 22 years, in the wild that is. The average life expectancy of a raccoon in a dense urban setting like this is however 1.8 years.

Most of them live in or at least emerge from and vanish into storm drains, though the ones in the redwood out front have somehow managed to survive chainsaws and worse. Generation after generation, perhaps it's the good kind of cholestorol.

That thin tearing sound of the raccoons' light chatter and the thumping of their footsteps on the roof always remind the cats indoors is a good place to be.

We had a possum once, a few years before you arrived, but it was a poor ragged fugitive creature and did not last out the winter.

TC/BTP said...

By the way, the raccoons will be better able to keep a wary eye out for you if you click on them.

Zephirine said...

Raccoons!! Wonderful. That one in the top photo is clearly going to stand for no nonsense at all.

22 years is a long time, foxes and wild cat species only make it to about 5 on average, I believe.

Beautiful poem.

I once lived in a house near the sea where you could hear the herring-gulls walking about on the roof. It was a kind of clicking thumping sound, also daunting to cats, and indeed, oneself.

Nora said...

When I was eight, a house-fire forced us out of our house and in to a mobile home (which was parked in the driveway) for several months.

We had six (or maybe seven?) cats at the time. In the semi-feral state our new living situation forced upon them, the cats adopted a possum, who would appear, with bare tail and beady eyes, in the furry lineup at kitty feeding time, and sleep in the cat-heap beneath the trailer at night.

They tried to befriend the local raccoons as well, but the raccoons weren't having it.

TC/BTP said...


Is that the house where you wrote "Rain"? If so, between the herring-gulls and the rain weeping in through the roof, I wonder how you slept.

(What with the raccoons and the cats and the rain weeping in through the roof, I wonder how I sleep as well... in fact, I don't believe I do.)


One hopes it was warm inside the trailer, otherwise one's thoughts would have turned to attempting to creep inside the cat-and-possum pile... what's the old saying, A slew of furs cannot be wrong?

Tom Raworth said...

Tom: I was pleased the title of the jpg reminded me of the German name: Waschbaer.... I see them lining up, towels over arms......
love, Tom

TC/BTP said...


Yes, that's a lovely bit of descriptive naming.

They have had that "handy" moniker in several language groups.

The raccoon is variously named for its characteristic dousing behaviour in conjunction with various terms for bear.

Not only in the wonderful German Waschbär you cite, but also in Italian (orsetto lavatore) and Japanese (araiguma).

The English word raccoon is derived from the Algonquin ahrah-koon-em—-the pronunciation used by Chief Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas, meaning "[the] one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands".

Spanish colonists adopted the Spanish word mapache for raccoon from the Nahuatl word mapachitli of the Aztecs, meaning "[the] one who takes everything in its hands".

Given the perils they regularly encounter hereabouts, that would seem the only way.

Zephirine said...

Tom - no, it was a different house, the gull roof, though remarkably thin and uninsulated, was rainproof.

Washing raccoon names - I always remember that a raccoon in French is un raton laveur, because of Prevert's poem Inventaire which you can remind yourself of by scrolling down this page

TC/BTP said...


Thanks for the brilliant link to Prevert's great list-poem Inventaire (Inventory), hopefully everybody will look. Surely the most wonderful of all poems about washing-rats... er, raccoons. glorious day
one week of happiness
one month with Marie
one terrible year
one minute of silence
one second of inattention

five or six raccoons

Anonymous said...

What gracious creatures!

I loved the sound /u:/ in the poem.

If I had one, I would definitely name it "Rocky".

TC said...


It's interesting that the song character was not originally called by that name. From a 1968 interview:

PAUL: "I was sitting on the roof in India with a guitar-- John and I were sitting 'round playing guitar, and we were with Donovan. And we were just sitting around enjoying ourselves, and I started playing the chords of 'Rocky Raccoon,' you know, just messing around. And, oh, originally it was Rocky Sassoon, and we just started making up the words, you know, the three of us-- and started just to write them down. They came very quickly. And eventually I changed it from Sassoon to Raccoon, because it sounded more like a cowboy. So there it is. These kind of things-- you can't really talk about how they come 'cuz they just come into your head, you know. They really do. And it's like John writing his books. There's no... I don't know how he does it, and he doesn't know how he does it, but he just writes. It's like any writer, you know. I think people who actually do create and write... you tend to think, 'Oh, how did he do that,' but it actually does flow... just flows from into their head, into their hand, and they write it down, you know. And that's what happened with this. I don't know anything about the Appalachian mountains or cowboys and indians or anything. But I just made it up, you know. And the doctor came in stinking of gin and proceeded to lie on the table. So, there you are."

Q: "I suppose the idea to do the thing with some sort of a American-Western accent also happened this way, did it?"

PAUL: "Oh that. Yeah, that was just a joke, you know, as most of it is."

Marie W said...

Tom, do you have a few rooms left for those
tanukis? But I think maybe a little bit more than thin paper would be tearing...

TC said...


Now that's what I'd call a Tanuki Town!