The Squirrel Guy

Paul Hostovsky


pulls up in his pickup,

the names of rodents written

in an elegant cursive scrolling

across the driver’s door and around

the tailgate to the passenger side – squirrels, mice,

rats, raccoons, woodchucks, moles, voles,

beavers, gophers, opossums –

enumerating his catalog of services

the way contractors do their retaining walls,

patios, porches, decks, masonry. This man

specializes in Rodentia. I found him

under Squirrels. I have squirrels under

my roof, squirrels in my walls, squirrels

in my sleep. “The largest rodent in the world

is the capybara,” he whispers to me

as we stand together gazing up

at the suddenly conspicuous silence

emanating from my ceiling joists.

(They seem to know he’s here.)

“It’s a hamster the size of a sheep

or a sow. There’s a family of them

at Southwick Zoo, across from the kangaroos,

catty-corner from the Patagonian

cavies. I visit them from time to time”

His plan is to figure out where

they got in, set his humane traps

and catch them one by one, then plug

the hole and drive a hundred miles west

to the Berkshires. “Any closer than that

and they’d find their way back.” I like this guy

with his ladders and cages, his mercy and rodent

trivia: “Rodens is Latin for gnaw. They all

gnaw because they have two incisors

that never stop growing, and gnawing

is the only way to keep them short. So you can’t

blame them.” I don’t blame them. I thank him.

I pay him. And part of me wants to join him,

ride shotgun out to the Berkshires,

and just keep listening, learning, rethinking

Rodentia, a large family of squirrels

barking and chirping in the back,

the names of rodents encircling us.

This Is the Way the World Ends

Paul Hostovsky


The world is getting ugly

and the ugly are getting

beautiful – they were

always beautiful of course 

but the world in all its beauty

didn’t see them that way

until now, now that things are

really ugly, really brutal,

so unspeakable

we can only cover our mouths

and wonder how such people

can do such things.

And what was ugly before

pales beside this new ugliness,

which is very, very old.

And that pallor and that

pose – the hand at the mouth

at the sight of so much

ugliness – is oh my god

so beautiful

that it blows the world

in all its beauty away.


Guitar Contest

Paul Hostovsky


We stumbled upon

a classical guitar contest going on

on the fourth floor of the music building,

snuck inside and sidled in

to some empty seats in the back, feeling vaguely

wrong. There were two guitarists up on stage

facing off like boxers, only seated, each holding a guitar

in the classical manner: left foot higher

than the right, knee in the curve of

the instrument where it flared like the hip of a lover.

One guitarist played while the other listened.

Then they switched, the first one listening

while the other played. Then two bearded stagehands

bearing new guitars as gingerly

as if they were bombs to be diffused or sleeping babies

handed them to the two guitarists

and took the used ones off their hands,

carrying them with the same solicitude

offstage. Then the same musical pieces

were played, more guitars brought out, and the same pieces

repeated. It finally dawned on us: the guitars

were competing, not the guitarists. The wares

of classical guitar makers from all over the world

were competing here: the audience was filled

with luthiers, and classical guitarists looking

to buy their next axe. It was the strangest feeling,

like all this time we’d been gazing east

while everyone watched a sunset in the west.

First place went to a Spaniard, second to a Czech,

third to an American from San Antonio, Texas.

Afterwards, out in the lobby, the only way to tell

the classical guitarists from the rest of us mortals

was by their unusually long thumbnails.


Spectacular View

Paul Hostovsky


His life was this spectacular view from a window

that he’d stumbled onto in his early twenties,

a feeling like falling in love every time he came home to it,

just standing there without taking off his coat,

taking it in with a kind of dumb

gratitude and awe, this breathtaking

feeling of undeserved and unheard-of

happiness stretching out like a horizon,

the warm southern aspect welcoming him home

like a lover’s eyes meeting his

every time he walked through the door.

And this spectacular view

was his life and his life was this view.

But then somehow, slowly,

unaccountably, unforgivably,

he got used to the view. He grew

accustomed to the unaccustomed beauty

and richness and luck of his own life. He walked through the door

and didn’t see it anymore. He didn’t even look.

He threw off his coat, threw down his keys and his phone

and headed straight into the kitchen

for another beer. The view at the window

had become just another wall

in a life full of walls. It was a kind of blindness,

what they call facial blindness –

he could no longer recognize the faces

of any of his own angels. It was also a kind of

defenestration – he had thrown the spectacular view from a window

out the window. And it was a kind of death,

though no one actually died, and life went on like that

bleakly, and blindly, and for a very long time.