Five Poems

On the Death of a Mouse

A mouse is made that small for speed, not smarts,
so when one tries to cross a busy road,
it meets (perhaps) a car. Not quite dead then,
spasming up from asphalt like a bag
caught sideways in the wind, a mouse requires
some mercy, some swift end. And I might think
how easy, how abrupt that sentence seems.
This is my right on earth, and duty too,

for beauty flees this place like coastal rains:
complete, completely fast. It takes a year
or two to see the vapors pass, or else
a moment.  We too, like some mouse, do writhe
and spasm all our days until at last
we come to what we’ve earned, that death so late
for all we’ve run across. And mercy may
make much of me, as only mercy can.



Why did you walk the grain that day,
like a scythe in a sundress?

He looked over thousands — asked you
to eat figs in the singing season.

You have watched husbands come and go,
but this one pursues you — sunburned, dirt-kneed.

So you dressed in linen on the threshing floor
and made that man’s feet an altar:

bare for the pleading, the head-covered prayer
of a woman coming to beauty.

Who are you, he says, you
like a merchant ship bringing wine?

At the drop of a sandal,
you walked into the city and sang

of raisin cakes and apples.
You held your lover, would not let him go.


Mendelssohns on Honeymoon*                                  

Three days after Easter, warm rain falling,
we passed wine-growing villages of the Rhine
for a dreadful inn at Worms — no comforts but my Felix!

We endured the loathsome company of Rhinelanders
who behaved little better than their large dogs.
Romanesque arches and Martin Luther distracted me.

Felix played the piano to amuse my toothache
while he gave me figs cooked in milk and saffron.
Then a stout man pulled that tooth, so I sketched for it

a mausoleum and returned to darning, which Felix says
has more lasting worth than a good many
contrapuntal twists and devices
. Perhaps.

At least the pants do not end up in shreds.
In papers, Felix read about the French government
and I the Meunier affair — there are rumors of accomplices.

I laid out lovely purchases from the Strasbourg shops  
and we met French fellow-diners. Music!  
Or more like butchered Strauss waltzes,

on hearing which one of the uncouth men said,
“J’aime ça, c’est si plaintif.” Then Felix teased that I
was born in France. I went up to our room

beside myself. The next day it rained again, so
we sat by the inn doors as mute as two fish.
Felix spent the whole evening playing my favorites.

*From The Mendelssohns on Honeymoon, ed. and trans. Peter Ward Jones


Afternoon Rain

Nice guess at the weather —
it’s thick as a good lie.
In the middle of its gray
publicity I go to the market.

Salmon and tuna steaks,
bees lurk through the stalls,
and how the cold air
captures my breath alone.


Attendant Alterations

Upon recommendation of my hairdresser
I took my hem to Olga who, among the Tut masks,

lion heads, unicorn paws, disco tuxes, and short sequins
picked up straight-pins from the wood floor to shorten me.

The maids at home will see Freda, seamstress queen of Her’s Bridal,
the dress shop, the lapis landmark of Minden, Louisiana,

who will lie on the floor, tuck edges with pins stuck in her own shirt waist,
or pocket, or wrist cushion, and tell about women

who fatten with their children and need more give at the middle,
or who scare Poochi, the shop’s mascot dog.

Eight hundred miles away, Olga kneels on the floor, fastening her lips in silence
except to say turn and then tug just above my shoe-tips,

which with the rest make a crude medley of shop sounds —
satin sliding against bare legs, high heels stepping down.

We bridesmaids will wear sleeveless at the crimson wedding.
We will walk down to carols, hang on the arms of men,

rattle bells as the wedded pair runs to honeymoon,
and closet up our well-fitted dresses to finish out the winter.

Jennifer Strange is the assistant editor of the Art House America Blog. Also a wife, mother, teacher, writer. For these poems, she owes a great deal to the Rhineland, young brides, small creatures, and various foods. The first of these poems, "On the Death of a Mouse," will appear with two companions in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume IV: Louisiana to be published by Texas Review Press next year.

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