Lepus californicus

Black-tailed jackrabbit

Alberto Ríos



Understanding the Black-tailed Jackrabbit


It seems like there are many rabbits,

But, they say, really, it’s only a few.


It’s that jackrabbits have such strong legs,

They do not stay still very well.


They travel constantly, everywhere,

But not always on purpose:


They’re like little kangaroos—

With those huge hind legs,


They can’t take small steps.

Every time they try,


They land in another county,

In the middle of another gathering,


In the middle of some other rabbit

Family dinner or breakfast.


After enough times, however,

The jacks complete their circuit,


Returning to their original homes,

Their first families.


People think there are a lot of rabbits,

But it’s not true.


It’s just that every rabbit counts for ten.

And the black tail on some jackrabbits,


People think it’s because of the breed.

But what it is, of course, is residue,


The char of landing in campfires or mud,

Then jumping away again so quickly


The residue dries instantly,

And stays like paint.


When a rabbit lands in water

A lot of it washes off—


That’s why they aren’t all black.

But that tail, and the tips of their ears,


It’s the newspaper-ink stain of reading

Where the rabbit has lately been.


Black-tailed jackrabbits,

They move around all right,


More than you or me, but don’t laugh:

Those ears have heard things


And they’ve brought back

So many stories to tell about you.




Alberto Ríos’s latest collection of poems is The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon). Native of Nogales and a past finalist for the National Book Award, Ríos has taught at Arizona State University for over 30 years and is represented in numerous public art installations.