A Mouse Made This Snow-Track
after a photograph
A hymn does not move in a linear way,
and nor does the deer mouse that wends
a path across the field of fresh snow
to scrabbly pines at forest’s edge.
The single track looks like the pearly
pop-it beads Mother threw
on the oak dresser she’d painted bluish-
white, which I scavenged and lost.
To cross the white expanse is mighty effort
for a mouse, who has no cover all the while.
Every step in snow’s a hop for him,
and if in storm, the cup his body makes
fills up before he leaps again. Each
narrow ditch that follows from his tail--
marking the space like silence, talk--
also fills. Up close,
the little mounds are half in shadow
in the low sun of a winter afternoon
until the mouse reached the woods,
where the track’s obscured,
so much like the idea of faith
in a hymn which cannot force belief
in the thing it sings about.
The trail etches along the light-
struck wood before it veers--
not to prairies of switchgrass,
bluestem, or the tallgrass meadows
“dominated by northern pin oak”--
but to darkness, inscrutable,
precarious as compassion
is one of the ineffable experiences
I cannot put in words.
Note: First and last lines drawn from my notes on talks by Rosemary Winslow and Michael Manson on Dickinson’s poetry. The quotation and some detail about prairie flora is from a Wikipedia entry on the meadow vole.
Darkling I Listen
The track holds the darkling beetle
back as it struggles to forge a way
through desert sand, the glittering expanse
it tumbles on. This creature looks half-
missing, one antenna, one or two left legs
half-gone or maybe chomped, since around
mating time these beetles sometimes
eat their own, their larvae, even eggs.
The tracks are lop-sided, too,
an elegant orthography the whole legs
make on the right, the slow sink
of the body leaning onto the partial
legs on the left. The beetle’s name appeals
to the sense of mystery opening onto
nothing yet inscribed, not what
it has done but what’s ahead.
Not emptiness but discomfort. Not
unforeseen but what can be already felt
as “excessive radiant energy,” a killing
Sahara heat which hatches the single egg
the sand will cradle until winter.
We don’t connect the rigors of survival
with a capacity to walk so awkwardly
on terrain which cannot spare us
when “the adult population dies off.”
Death’s an adaptation of sorts,
and the runic tracks we leave
off making—half flourish,
half singular line of indentations
from the dragged-along stylus of
a leg—are, in being stopped by
the silence of stillness, eloquent.
Note: Odd facts and quoted line are drawn from the Wikipedia article on the genus Pimelia of the species in the family Tenebrionidae, commonly known as the darkling beetle.
Cynthia Hogue’s most recent collections are Revenance, listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets, and In June the Labyrinth (2017). Her tenth collection, instead, it is dark, will be out from Red Hen Press in 2023. Her third book-length translation (with Sylvain Gallais) is Nicole Brossard’s Distantly (Omnidawn 2022). Hogue’s Covid chapbook is entitled Contain (Tram Editions 2022). Among her honors are a Fulbright Fellowship to Iceland, two NEA Fellowships, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets (2013). She lives in Tucson.