At 104th street
a great bulk of igneous rock
heaves itself from Central Park—
wet black-green in halide streetlight
like a breaching submarine.
I hadn’t seen this place before;
still, I passed, all a funk,
mind inside itself (a typical brood),
moving past with just a sidelong look.
By a low stone wall
at the foot of the cliff, a man
(black parka, pants
too long, high-top shoes)
leaned as if in muttered
collusion with the ground.
He spoke to someone as I passed
(I figured he was drunk).
“Fella,” I heard him say,
as if to me.
I stopped, and looking back,
saw from across the wall,
crouched on the side of the cliff
a raccoon, black-masked,
capacious gray coat,
It sat there watching me,
or rather, just watching,
attentive to some
attraction I didn’t see.
And then another.
And all along that black expanse
must have been twenty raccoons
(I didn’t think they could be so varied)
quietly foraging, awaiting,
I came to understand,
the man in the black coat.
He threw bread to them
like the old pigeon lady in
and five or so gathered nearby
on the other side of the wall
not minding his humanness,
“I come out here every night,” he explained.
“I don’t got a girlfriend anymore,
so I come out here
and feed them to **** time.”
He tore a piece from a half-gone baguette
and threw it to a little one.
“There’s like fifty of them now,” he said.
“There were twenty when I started;
they have four or five babies every spring.
Nobody knows they’re here except me.”
As he spoke, a baby raccoon
climbed up a sapling
by the wall, extending its sharp black nose
toward the man who held a scrap of bread.
The raccoon took it unreluctantly.
I flinched at the thought of tiny
raccoon teeth missing their mark
on my index finger.
But habit was fixed and easy
here between man and raccoon.
“They’ll come up and sit on my shoulder...”
he said at last and then trailed off.
I stood and watched for several minutes—
this assembly of raccoons
along the black cliff
and the man who called them “fella” and “baby.”
At last he said with satisfaction,
“They call me the raccoon man.”
Deciding he had said his bit,
I gave a soft, enthusiastic whistle
between my teeth
as if to say,
At 105th street, I felt remorse
for not having said more
to the man who drew
his nocturnal congregation every night
right there on Central Park West.
And in a gesture of regret,
I turned slightly back as I walked
to the see his black form
bent over the low wall