The current issue of Green Mountains Review (Winter 2012) features the below poem by Sarah Messer. “Poisoned Mouse” accomplishes so much with so little that we thought we’d ask Sarah to talk about how it came about. –The Editors
The mouse just a comma beside
the woven wastebasket of the upstairs bathroom–
small, grey field mouse not acting
too surprised, alive but not moving,
nose in paws, his needle tail stretched straight behind him.
Nothing but a pipe-organ playing beneath a curtain of fur.
I have lived on this earth only minutes.
And within that, the sleepy mid-day mouse arises.
Some say that everything perceived
is only mind. My mind and the mouse like a screen door
closing when I lift him–feet: 1950s white wedding gloves,
tail: a straight velvet tie–and place him in the trashless can.
Outside, America tries to climb out of its hole and most
believe in a God who created everything
only ten thousand years ago.
The mouse tried to climb out of the basket but failed.
I threw a bathrobe over the top and carried
it to the weedy beds. Here ants carefully unpack a peony’s
balled fist, here some flowers bloom like clouds
seen from a plane. How I long to leave this country.
I look down and the mouse hasn’t moved. I could never
leave this country. Inside, under the sink, I find
the blue pellets of poison gleaming like sapphires in the dark.
In fact, yes, I did start with only the image of the mouse, and although I hate to admit this . . . it was from real life. I was staying in my parents’ summer house in Vermont and no one had been in it for a long time. My first morning there I found the dying mouse, and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. Anyway, later I found the poison (and had a talk with my parents about more humane traps) . . . but at the same time I was listening to NPR and also reading Buddhist philosophy. I had no TV or internet at the time because I was nestled between two high mountains. I think the current events swept into the poem through writing it and my intense love of America and also my intense problems with America. The poem wrote itself very easily this way. I didn’t start out planning to say anything about America or politics. I was however interested in poems that leap between tone and content, etc., and so the poem becomes a little architecture to be able to say things (like I love/hate America) that wouldn’t work on their own.
I have several other mouse poems from that summer. A cat left me some dismembered mice and I saved another mouse from drowning in the bucket that caught the leaking water under the sink. That one had a happy ending. Mouse lived. I think being so isolated . . . little things like mice and their lives feel very important and dramatic to me.
SARAH MESSER is the author of a hybrid history/memoir, Red House (Viking), and a poetry book, Bandit Letters (New Issues). A 2008-2009 fellow at the Radcliff e Institute for Advanced Study, she teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.