by Judith Skillman
It is swimming in the dishtowel as if tunneling through earth.
Its nose long and pink, you strong-arm the unwanted gift.
It tries to bite you as you walk barefoot on wet decking
The secret? the particles of black dirt left on the carpet
when you knelt to catch this small shriek brought into the domestic
mis en scene. The interrogation? A kind of argument inside
your head when the furred body was paraded before
you for approval, deposited there, and all the creatures
titled rodent passed before the imagination, a deck of cards
and you looking for the ace of spades, which it resembled—
wobbly, dark, almost regal but for the fear, until you took its
small weight into the rectangle of cloth. It is swimming in your dream
undoing roots of sweetpeas you planted along the fence,
unfurling the two hands in a crawl stroke, doing laps along
the fence where wire beribbons wood, almost invisibly.
The seeds of last summer burn underground, where they never
emerged from the hiding place all beauty takes best to.
It is falling over the railing into water or dirt—either way
a feline will emerge blinking to fix amber-eyes on the spot
where its small unbloodied mass pauses before shrieking again.
It calls out against the game of predator and prey, root-stalks
and hunger, hell and heaven written all over the sway
of its back, the strength of its will to live despite such poor
treatment and conditions. Its warden? You lean against
the kitchen bar, where granite swirls rose and gray, a slab
cut and polished to mimic the desperate perfection with which
you, your domestic animals, the house mouse and smaller mice
inhabit the garden. A plat and a half. A man and a woman.
Awake and asleep, and no one to tend the underground
except this wounded cry, this rear guard: a displaced
refugee from Hades, where the owls sit chained to their perches
and the girl shivers for want of sun, shampoo, and linens.
Judith Skillman is the author of twelve collections of poetry, most recently The Never (Dream Horse Press, 2010.) She is the recipient of awards from many organizations, including the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, New Poets of the American West, and many other journals and anthologies. Skillman holds an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, teaches for the Richard Hugo House, and lives in Kennydale, Washington. Her book The White Cypress is forthcoming from Cervéna Barva Press in 2011. Her website is www.judithskillman.com.