Year Of The Rabbit

by lizard

I’m obsessed with rabbits. from the book I read as a kid, Watership Down, to my favorite movie, Donnie Darko, rabbits have become a powerful symbol for me. Signifying what? From just the two examples I mentioned, a warning the world as we know it is about to end.

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem about a rabbit, and it’s amazing. Here it is:

A RABBIT AS KING OF THE GHOSTS

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur–

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone–
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

*

The dynamic in this poem is between the unsuspecting rabbit and the predatory cat. This echoes the narrative of Watership Down, where instead of a prowling feline its the bulldozers of human progress that threaten the rabbit’s existence.

I responded to this rabbit poem by Wallace Stevens by echoing another powerful poem, by Carolyn Forche, titled The Colonel:

THE COLONEL

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

*

To bring these two works together I wrote this:

UNTIL THE WALLS FALL IN

I. Weaving Wallace

i remember the world
when it was big
it hurled at me fast
like a catapult rigged
and tripped–
arm ripping through the air

i glimpsed earth lungs a green tree blur
as i tried in vain
to out run it
to keep the world waiting
until the day i could discern
the code to break its long, persisting
mystery

but the sun was too damn blistering
and the moon forgot
her name
wandering starless skies
in dazed disarray
as poets turned their backs
on the people

now on nights when the stars
are visible
the message has become
unreadable

as we wait for the unforgiving sun
to obliterate twinkle
reducing nursery rhymes
to crude capitalist jingles for piles
of junk

one could say you are humped higher
and higher, black
as stone–that you sit with your head
like a carving in space

but one wouldn’t know how sophisticated
the claws of the cat have become
or who it assassins through the grass for

without knowing the quickening plunge
of the 21st century

II. Invoking Carolyn

yes, the screams that could be a rabbit’s or child’s
are lapped up by the leathery cups
of the general’s severed ears
spilled from sack to table and
thrust into her verse

O the terrible content of knowing driving form
storming across the pages
of pulped and dried up wood
speaking from inside a prison no one wants
to leave

until the walls fall in

but see! through disbelief
in the world’s present form
we can change it to suit
tomorrow’s dawning need

and through abandonment both wings could
beat the air, and rise
above the angry tides and havoc
they will bring

see the rabbit king scuttle to his den
before the last bell breaks and walls fall in?

slap me conscious when we get there, mother
for i cannot trust the clock
nor the word

and the image is of a bird thick with tar
no end in sight: the road, the tailpipe,
the car

just remember: always keep one eye on the cat in the grass
eyes empty of everything but you

its tail slowly snaking through prickly green blades
as you lose yourself in the moon

THE MOON!


  1. Prince of a thousand enemies.

    I had no sooner read this post then I went outside to have a smoke, and there was a cottontail eating the messy cast offs the birds leave under the feeder. Yes, we feed the birds in the deep freeze of winter; we’re heartless that way.

    Rabbits have always been and remain an integral part of my life. I won’t bore you with the details, but go to the Ravalli County Fair sometime and check out my handiwork and legacy. I find them to be harbingers of something, but peril is not among the possibilities. I’m uncertain that you’ve read the same Watership Down as I have. The peril faced by the rabbits in the story was as much among their own kind as it was from development. Perhaps I focus on that because rabbits are taking over Bozeman, or perhaps because I see the resilience in their existence. Things always change, and rabbits thrive regardless.

    Prince of a thousand enemies. I like that …

    • lizard19

      no need for uncertainty, rob, we read the same book. maybe you are getting nit-picky with me because of past disagreements. i hope that’s not the case, because if it is, it makes you look petty.

      • It’s hard to get nit-picky when my comment was right to your point.

        From just the two examples I mentioned, a warning the world as we know it is about to end.

        A response to that is not petty; it is right to the point. Your reply, on the other hand, was frightened and weak. Our world is always ending as what comes after is always beginning. If you’re going to spout off on the InterTubes, you might want to focus on current disagreements, instead of lording petty grudges, Lizard.

        • lizard19

          the point, rob, is what rabbits mean to me, symbolically, as an artist.

          you apparently want to get into the nuances of the narrative i mentioned. why?

          i’ll answer: because you are trolling me in this thread, rob. i called you out, and your retort is to call my response frightened and weak because you want me to be angry. you want to drag me into the type of pointless angry exchanges you have with Mark.

          it’s not going to work. go bark somewhere else.

          • Lizard, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Did you think I was joking (or poking your august ego) when I wrote:

            Rabbits have always been and remain an integral part of my life.

            I’ve killed more rabbits by my own hand then you’ve likely ever seen. And not once did it fail to hurt when I did it. You can keep your ‘artistic symbols’. To me they have been best friends, food, a cause of joy and a cause of pain. I simply disagreed with your characterizing them as harbingers of our doom, ‘the end of the world as we know it’. If that was an error of interpreting your meaning, you could have just said so. But no. You will not abide any disagreement, certainly not from me who you think you have well pegged. To me, “symbolically”, rabbits are the ultimate prey animal and the ultimate survivors (save maybe rats). They are as loving as cats, save that they spend every waking moment avoiding death. They are tough as nails and fragile against the weapons used to kill them. They breed prolifically so that the species can continue. They don’t live very long, a lesson very painful for me to learn. But they speak to continuity, a point that Adams drove home very well. The world in which we live ends at all times, and begins anew at all times. That was my only point, a point you took as insult.

            The other “point” which so eludes you is that when you post something on the Internet, people will respond, especially those who have an attachment to the subject at hand, symbolic or not. I responded to you with what rabbits mean to me, not you as an ‘arteest’. To me, they are and have been very very real, a symbol of my life, not my art. If that is objectionable to you, Lizard, then perhaps you’re better off self-publishing a journal on paper. No response allowed at that point, and wouldn’t that be nice?

            And for the record, you haven’t the first damned clue what a “troll” is.

            • lizard19

              i would have had no problem if your comment had been a subjective description of your experiences with rabbits.

              but no, you just had to find something to undermine my subjective experience with rabbits in popular culture by nitpicking at my memory of Watership Down and what that story meant to me.

              you can mock my art and call my responses to you weak and frightened, but i have to warn you, it doesn’t do your volatile persona here any good.

              this post featured two amazing poems by phenomenal poets and my own response using their work as a springboard.

              and instead of responding to any of that, you take exception with my memory of a book i read as a kid and what it meant to me.

              so now, in this thread, we’re involved in this stupid back and forth.

              as for the trolling…

              Anatomy of a Troll

              Trolling is perhaps the hardest thing to detect with any accuracy, simply because it really is in the eye of the beholder. However, experience has shown us that trolls tend to follow set patterns of behaviour. For example, trolls:

              • Post to get emotional responses from other posters.
              • Always post the same tired responses in response to the same tired topics.
              • Never answer questions directed at them.
              • Never justify their position.
              • Always demanded documentary evidence from others to support their assertions, while offering none in return.
              • Always disappear if their bluff is called.

              the reason i called your comments trolling is because of the first listed characteristic. but it’s impossible to prove your intent was to cause an emotional response from me. that’s just a hunch based on how you roll online.

              but after being called out, your subsequent comments appear, at least to me, to be intended to illicit more angry responses from me.

              • You’re only assuming my intent was to “get an emotional response” from you. In truth I was excited that you used an image important to me for your post fodder. But no, I disagreed with you in interpreting a book, and apparently that is not allowed in your view of comments.

                Here’s a handy helpful tip for the future. Just because you have an emotional reaction to a comment doesn’t mean the commenter meant to force your hand on the issue. That’s Inquisition thinking. Ruminate on that for a while.

              • lizard19

                rob, you can’t blame me for being suspicious of your intentions. you have told me in past threads to get my nose out of poetry books, called my opinions bullshit, and tried to reprimand me for my poor response to another commenter, like you’re some sort of example of tempered responses.

                if someone else had made the exact comment you did, i wouldn’t have responded the same. because it was you making it, i responded the way i did.

                you get what you give, rob.

              • Then it sounds like a personal problem to me.

              • lizard19

                you can try to elude any accountability for your role in making arguments personal if you want to.

                i guess you have to try and live up to the ! because, as you have declared, it defines you.

  2. Pete Talbot

    Rabbits haunt the strip mall parking lots and apartment complexes in Billings — some of them the size of wolverines. They’re a funny sight amidst the quad-cab pickups and SUVs. They drive the neighborhood dogs crazy.

  3. The Polish Wolf

    Wow, that got weirdly ugly weirdly quick. Just a thought though on Watership Down and the rabbits, and continuity and the end of the world as we know it – can it not be both? I mean, the world did end as the rabbits in the book knew it – everything they knew was wiped out. But they survived, and in the destruction of what they knew they were able to survey different ways of being, different sorts of societies.

    In the end, though, they do survive, though both they and the society they create have changed, because the destruction of the old gave them a chance to view alternatives and start anew. And yet along with the theme of revolutionary change there is a certain continuity or at least survival, because as I recall (I read it a while ago) they do seem to re-create a society at least somewhat similar to the one they had, at least not imitating the extremes they encounter.

    So…I think that’s what Rob was trying to add, but perhaps stated in a more palatable, less confrontational way?

    • lizard19

      art is never an either/or form of expression. that is one of the reasons i found rob’s challenge of my interpretation to be tasteless and trollish.

      you hit on something that rob perhaps missed because he’s more interested in being contentious than insightful.

      the world AS WE KNOW IT is about to end.

      rabbits, in the context i was trying to describe, aren’t harbingers of doom, but harbingers of change. cataclysmic change, to be sure, but, as you point out, not annihilation.

      in the director’s cut version of Donnie Darko Watership Down is a book they read in class. there is also a poem Donnie reads that wasn’t in the original. i highly recommend watching the director’s cut.

      again, this is art, so take from it what you will. i was hoping to associate the year of the rabbit we are about to begin with what rabbits have meant to me in my work as a poet.

      • The Polish Wolf

        Well you have definitely caused me to think about rabbits in a way I hadn’t before, and definitely about Watership Down (Donnie Darko is still too much of a trip for me to make heads or tails of – films are always harder for me to really analyze or interpret than literature).

        Indeed, the whole thing makes me look at Easter bunnies in a new light. The association of rabbits with fertility is an old and understandable one, but it is interesting that they came to be associated with a Syncretic Christian rebirth ceremony – the destruction of the old world, the beginning of a new era, and all that.

        I wonder if there is a connection between this symbol of a rabbit and their symbolism in both Watership Down and Donnie Darko, based in their real-world propensity for suffering catastrophe but avoiding annihilation.

        • lizard19

          making connections is part of our subjective experiences.

          you mention easter and fertility, death and rebirth, and for me there is a potent connection because of personal experiences i have had.

          i’ll lay it out briefly by saying i despise the month of April because a very good friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver on April Fools day.

          since then i’ve noticed a lot of our horrific domestic mass-killings have happened in April, like columbine, virginia tech, oklahoma city, and waco.

          and i’m not the only one who has noticed this

          t.s. eliot called april “the cruelest month.”

          i think he was on to something. and i’ve got some ideas why his assertion may have some truth.

  1. 1 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Year of the Rabbit […]

  2. 2 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Year of the Rabbit […]

  3. 3 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Year of the Rabbit […]




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