“Survival Is a Matter of Perspective When” by Chaun Ballard

Chaun Ballard


We step four feet onto pavement 
my wife & I 

confident in what we know 
will be 

a good jog 
to air out whatever it is the robins sing— 

With each breath 
the runner before us 


then retreats back 
in failure 

the length 
of the sidewalk— 

On our right 
a moose comes into frame 

Maybe a yearling 
perhaps the same from May 15 

abandoned almost instinctually 
by its mother 

in preparation for her newborn— 
The moose has aged into tree trunk 

a UPS delivery truck 
in fur 

tall enough to raise its head 
from the ground 

over the seven-foot wooden fence 
Who says Good fences make good neighbors? 

How I relish this 
Wish it became more 

than a proverb 

in all situations 
But the truth is 

what holds beautiful 
in one context 

does not hold beautiful 
when misused 

in another 
For example 

There are only a few bad apples 
for some 

that if you purchase a bushel 

identify the bad ones 
remove a few rotten Haralsons 

there is no great loss 
In essence 

the others may be salvaged— 
But what if the few bad apples were identifiably pilots 

joked Chris Rock 
What if the airlines said 

We have a few “bad apples” 
pilots that like to crash into mountains— 

Please bear with us—? 
Would you 

bear with them? 
See how the fence changes 

See how the moose remains there 
across the street 

like the only tree 
absent of flowers 

& fruit 
See how its shade of tree trunk bears none— 

Bad apples 
Who took you out of context? 

Who bruised you 
into new proverb 

when we know one bad apple spoils the bunch? 
Now see how the moose turns 

to look at us 
& we turn into statues 

it no longer sees another woman 

in her sunglasses 
gliding along its path 

& my God 
it is such a beautiful day 

We all should stay 
safe from such tragedy 

to have our moment a while longer 
in the sun 

like a branch of apple blossoms 
before descending red globes 

In Alaska 
we call this June 4 


Now / see / how everything / slows / down / after all the build-up: / the moose— / the woman—when all you want to hear / is / what happens / because you now have a picture / that is not unlike a passenger train / with joy-filled faces / who wave at the locals in each town / & crossing / Each beautiful mile / peaceful / hands raised in solidarity / to a window— / & see how I have said nothing of metaphor / outright / I have said nothing of police / nor their view from a riot-proof frame— / See how / this is the first time I mention / riot / when I mention / police / This is called / rhetoric— / 

the moose does not see the woman 

on her bike 
as we see the woman 

on her bike: 
a blissful train approaching 

from the opposite end of the same track 

no one has to tell you 
who lives— 

it is such a beautiful day 

the sun is where it should be 

the breeze is light 


I am trying to hold onto the moment 

a while longer 
for the woman’s sake 

but repetition is impending 

the ampersand is causing tension 
evoking a response 

but even an emotional response 
is situational 

because repetition 
is a rhetorical device 

because this is a poem 

it has the power to delay 
but not to build a fence 

nor resolve the situation that will end 
in the body of the poem— 

which means 
repetition does not forewarn in every situation— 

which means 
if you look like the woman 

you keep riding your bike 
toward danger 

with your eyes 
on the interracial couple 

If you are a moose 
you are still looking at the threat 

for a positive ID 

if we yell 

several times 
neither of the two will see the other 

The moose will deem us threat 
The woman may think argument 

if she sees the moose 

before it is too late 
she may turn around 

In Alaska 
a moose attacks when it feels threatened 

A bike rider rides their bike 
because it is summer 

When you think of repetition 
what comes to mind? 

In most communities 
if you look like me 

in contrast 

to a picket fence
the woman calls the police 

She calls the police 
She calls the police 

if she survives 
Perhaps half 

of a whole couple 

       out of time

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Chaun Ballard: “No one was harmed during the writing of this poem. The woman on her bike lived, just barely missing the kick from the moose’s hind legs. As she passed us, she said, ‘Oh! I was wondering what was going on.’ I remember being stunned, wondering what she thought we were shouting about and gesturing for if not for her safety. Around this same time, in Anchorage, a Black man jogging was questioned about his presence in the neighborhood close to his home. The recording aired on our local news, and the community came together to host a jog in his support. This Anchorage incident came not too long after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. In the context of our country’s movement against racism, the whole event felt surreal. I, of course, am grateful to be here to tell the tale.” (web)

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