A Poem for Groundhog’s Day

It occurred to me that Feburary 2nd would be a good day to look for poems about groundhogs, and thus I discovered Richard Eberhart, who was born in Austin, Minnesota in 1904.

I would like you to think I am a literate person and wise when it comes to poems, but the truth is I have read very few and know almost nothing about them. But I do like silly rhymes and absurd things.

So I was delighted to discover Eberhart, because he appears to be well regarded, yet he did not consider himself too fine an artist to write about poking a dead groundhog with a stick.

I liked the poem “The Groundhog“, especially at the beginning when the expired rodent is still fresh and Eberhart describes “the seething cauldron of his being.” But I was a little disappointed that the poem didn’t rhyme, and that he didn’t take advantage of all the comic opportunities that a dead groundhog has to offer. Intstead he turned somber and serious, bringing in Montaigne and St.Theresa. And he didn’t mention Groundhog’s Day. Not even once.

Right now, part of my day job demands that I take perfectly decent work by good journalists and twist their carefully arranged words into unrecognizable radio copy. If there is a legitimate and newsy reference to an event happening today, I insert it. This is called “aggregation.” At first I felt a little guilty about the practice, but now it has become an annoying habit. Unfortunately for Richard Eberhart, because it led me to steal his first two lines and then go off in a completely different and totally selfish direction.

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
His flanks were flat as last year’s yields.
And flattened, also, was his head.

Where once a lively creature sat,
a rotting carcass lay there, still.
In fields of wheat, he would be chaff.
In dumps at Punxsutawney, fill.

I thought, “herein a poem lies.”
The cloud of flies around him thick.
And there beneath the summer skies
I chose to poke him with a stick.

The muck and ooze that issued forth
did bubble, boil, and downward run.
The cloud of flies flew to the north
and angrily blocked out the sun.

A shadow dropped across the scene
And cast a silent, solemn pall.
The groundhog’s flanks were turning green
but this he noticed not at all.

“I’ll write a poem about death,”
I told myself, “that will not rhyme.”
“I’ll mention Rome and Greece and hair
and love and bones and sap and time.”

And somewhere in there with a wink
I’ll note the angles and obliques
of sunlight and the rodent’s stink
and winter lasting six more weeks.

Though that means nothing to our pet
who, all collapsed and in decay
is flat as any thing can get
and doesn’t think of Groundhog’s Day.

Clearly this silly rhyme is far from the sort of poem that Eberhart would actually write, and does nothing to honor him or his intent. It is, in fact, a travesty. Yet I couldn’t resist, and have no regrets.

Under what circumstances do you feel compelled, against your better judgment, to get your two cents in?

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Dale Connelly

I am a writer and broadcaster living in the Twin Cities.

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