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Radio Readers BookByte: Jackalope Goes Into A Truck Stop

Library of Congress

I believe in Jackalopes. They exist in postcards, seen throughout the western plains at truck stops. They must be real. This is one story I have heard about a particular jackalope named Jack, who is the hero of my book called Jackalope, from Red Mountain Press in Santa Fe.

            Jack looks at his reflection in the convex mirror over the door of the High Plains Gas and Go. His antlers distort into a maze of contorted twists, crazy looking. Sometimes he doesn’t believe he is real, either. The electric door beeper keeps beeping, so he moves into the crowded store. He can barely make it through aisles crammed with supplies—windshield blades, aspirin, maps. He continues past the coolers until he finds the unisex restroom.

On the way out, he stops and pulls three liters of bottled water out of the refrigerator case. In the shimmering glass reflections, oddly, he sees a floating American Indian woman caught in a net. He turns. Behind him is a shelf of kitsch for sale: Pocahontas is snared inside a macramé dream catcher. Beside her, a ceramic Lakota man paddles a canoe. A bronze Apache man wrestles an alligator. Jack sighs. What bad mismatches of tribes and geographies.

            Then he sees a wire rack of postcards. In front is a “Greetings from Kansas” card with a large jackalope profiled against sunflowers. He rotates the display slowly. “Great Warrior Jackalope” catches his eye. Another card is a scientific illustration with the description, “Western Jackalope: The first white man to see this singular fauna specimen is trapper George McLean in 1829.” Jack has heard that old urban legend many times. The card continues on the back, “They only sing on dark nights before a storm.” That part is right as far as it goes. The family-friendly postcard company censored the X-rated details about lightning’s erotic effects.

            Jack selects 128 cards for his nieces and nephews and heads to the counter.

            “Kinda windy out there,” he says to the woman at the register. Pictures of identical blond kids, different sizes, are visible next to her half-filled crossword puzzle.

            “Yeah, kinda from the southwest today,” she says without looking up, but then she notices his paw on the Alexander Hamilton bills. Her water-blue eyes snap awake. “Hey, are you one of those jackalopes I hear about?”

            “Yes, I am,” Jack says and straightens up a bit.

            “I thought so. Say,” she smirks, “I hear you guys are rabbity. Is that true?”

            Jack feels his ears burn, but answers, “That could be.”

            “Just in case, thought you ought to know, we’ve got more cards in our adult room at the back.” She stops as a man and two teenagers clang through the door. She lowers her voice. “You might check them out, back and to the left.” She adds with a smile, “I can join you soon.”

            “Thanks,” Jack mumbles as he pockets the change. He starts to hop away, but curiosity gets the best of him. Uncle Chubby’s birthday is coming up, and the old fellow is so hard to shop for.

            As Jack goes back down the aisle, he sees a reflection of the clerk in the glass door. She leers at him openly. Oh, well. He will be delayed at this pit stop longer than he planned.

Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09, is author of over 25 books of poetry and prose. Forward Reviews writes of her new memoir The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival: “An accomplished poet, Low’s well-honed prose flows with lyric intensity.” She teaches professional workshops and classes for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. She has won three Kansas Notable Book Awards and has recognition from Seaton Prize, Pami Jurassi Bush Award of the Academy of American Poets, Roberts Prize, and the Lichtor Poetry Prize. Low has an MFA (Wichita State U.) and Ph.D. (Kansas U.).