Literature 1-7-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Cary Waterman

Read this week's winning poem, "The Mice" by Cary Waterman, selected by What Light judge, Leslie Adrienne Miller

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The Mice

     For the Greeks, who had no word for irreversible death, one did
          not die, one darkened.

                    —Mark Strand

Where the Japanese iris right
     now stand ready to
           accept the inevitable
                purple blossom

she found four dead mice
     in their nest of dirt and dusty fur
          all with their small ears pointed like pilgrims
                toward the trunk of the huge cottonwood.

What happened here?
     Cat? Owl? Dog? A silent disease?
          Or had they just frozen one night as the air
                on their bodies fell back to winter?

Their dusk bodies were soft as she picked them up
      unsure of whether to leave them buried where they would
           melt back into earth, first fur, then intestine,
                vertebra, and finally small pocket of skull.

She put a rock over them but came back later,
      removed them to a black plastic bag, afraid
           of something, some disease, that the cat
                would chew on them, get sick, maybe die.

Now where the grave was there is a space
      in the clump of iris, a darkness, an open mouth.


In this poem I think of the dead mice as messages from the Great Mystery. Inexplicably dark and silent, they haunt our dreams and our waking, giving truth to the paradox which is spring. Mice, because of their diminuitiveness, call us to pay attention to the smallest things.


Cary Waterman is the author of When I Looked Back You Were Gone (Holy Cow! Press), The Salamander Migration (University of Pittsburg), First Thaw (Minnesota Writers Publishing House), and Dark Lights the Tiger’s Tail (Scopecraft Press). She co-edited the anthology, Minnesota Writes: Poetry (Milkweed Editions). Her own poems have appeared in the anthologies, A Geography of Poets, Woman Poet:The Midwest, The Logan House Anthology of 21st Century American Poetry and Poets Against the War. She has poems forthcoming in The Blue Earth Review, The Great River Review, Cutthroat, and The Minnesota Women’s Poetry Anthology. She has spent time at the MacDowell Colony and at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Her writing awards include Bush Foundation Fellowships, Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships, and the Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction in Poetry. She teaches at Augsburg College and at Normandale Community College.