Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air –
- The speaker is no longer driving, but back is home on the back steps. The "our" is a little bit of a mystery, but it's probably referring to whoever he's living with. And it's probably someone important enough to be addressing this to.
- "Breath[ing] the rich air" is probably the first positive thing we've seen our sad speaker do, but we don't really get enough at this point to think things might turn around for him.
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
- So a mother skunk with her babies ("kittens" is the technical term for baby skunks – just as baby goats are called "kids," and so on) is rustling around in a garbage can looking for food.
- All of the sudden we've moved from these zombie-like scavenging skunks to different terminology altogether – a mother and her kittens. That's softer language, for sure. Is the speaker forming a different opinion of them?
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
- He's describing the mama skunk in all these different terms – "wedge-head" is obviously to describe the shape of it, and "ostrich" for the tail.
- She's gotten into some sour cream – pretty nasty if you think about it.
and will not scare.
- So the skunk has found something to eat and refuses to be shooed off by anyone, regardless of the threat.
- This last line is so cool, because it almost seems like the speaker is feeling a mix of disgust for the mother skunk (she's chowing down on some nasty sour cream cup) and admiration (she has what she wants and will not let go).