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The Mouse

On its side under my tall desk in the cold
northwest corner of the house, a dead mouse, not newly dead,
small, probably young, about the length of my index finger
with a tail stretched out as long as its body and untouched,
though the body looks washed, the fur dried stiff and straight out.

My cat must have mouthed the body, or lapped it—
the same tongue that laps my face as she lies on my chest
at night in bed. It’s hard to believe that this mouse
had a life of its own, appetites, had tried not to be caught, not
to give up its small life. Hard to imagine it alive at all,
so completely has it become a thing. Of course

I missed the passing over, the transformation if
there was one, if there ever is one, the act of dying,
the moment of pain, if it is painful, that moment
when the magic hormone is supposed to kick in and save
the dying  from the last pang, make the last moment
golden and ecstatic.

A fine thread of blood stuck to the floor. I was afraid
so I picked the mouse up in a paper towel—
it weighed almost nothing in my hand—and took it out
the front door, across the dirt road, into the November woods
where I tossed the small body a foot or two—and hurried away

though I still, almost daily, watch an old friend, alive today,
lively in conversation, creep closer to death and have to see
how absolute is the dividing line, how much, daily,
thinner and weaker, she creeps nearer death, but is alive
as though there is no in between, and for one more day
I am saved by the small body under my desk, from grief.


And then Jill showed us the hill outside town
where she had dumped her old jokes,
and each joke became a pine needle,
the kind that pricks your skin
and reminds you of  the phlebotomist’s office
and the vial of purple blood
sucked in a second from your arm.
It was where we had dumped our old furniture,
an armoire, an arm chair, whatever pricked
memory, whatever pricked the present and where
we were living now, how it had changed. It was where
we had dumped the gifts, too, the spiny glass cat,
the cracked baking dish, vestiges of prickly friendships
past and almost forgotten, the stained mattress,
the usual black bags of bling, all
that you expect in a dump and some things you don’t—
detritus of mind, papers that fly, contracts for peace
and national boundaries, one written before the defeat of Poland,
one written last month. “It ain’t always pretty,” the poet said
unpoetically, truly, while waiting for a new heart, the old one
there in the dump, discarded, where whatever breaks is broken.


The Use of Metaphor

It’s always better to talk of one thing
in terms of another. Why would you want
to call a chicken a chicken when you could
see it as a yellow feather in the eye of the morning?
Color is a gift of the red, green and blue cones
in the eye. They turn us inside out with passion,
the ozone layer pierced by my orange lust.

I am inside out again today. That explains
why the night I hear at the window is not
the night I heard before you left, why
the ocean wept a few tides and the sky
wandered towards a more sumptuous solar system,
why the lilacs crumpled before the end of May.
Losing you is like emptying the forest of the heart
into a dishpan, the dishwater turns green, dust
buries the treetops, the forest remains
always, entirely, under water.  


Deborah Brown’s book of poems, Walking the Dog’s Shadow, is the 2010 winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Award from BOA Editions and of the 2011 New Hampshire Literary Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry. The title poem of this volume was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2013. Brown is a translator, with Richard Jackson and Susan Thomas, of Last Voyage: Selected Poems of Giovanni Pascoli (Red Hen Press, 2010) and an editor, with Maxine Kumin and Annie Finch, of Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2005). Her poems have appeared in Hotel Amerika, New England Review, Mississippi Review, Alaska Quarterly ReviewNimrod, bosqueMargie, Rattle, Stand, Zone 3, Poet Showcase Anthology, and others. Brown is a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester where she won an award for Excellence in Teaching. She lives in Warner, New Hampshire.