The Mouse Whole
by Richard Moore

Other works written by Richard Moore ...

POETRY

A Question of Survival
Word from the Hills
Empires
The Education of a Mouse
No More Bottom
Through the Keyhole
Bottom is Back

FICTION

The Investigator

ESSAYS

The Rule that Liberates

TRANSLATION

The Captives of Plautus


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The Mouse Whole

An Epic by
RICHARD MOORE

Foreword by
HOWARD NEMEROV

Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.
—Horace

And he said unto him, Arise,
go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
—Luke 17:19

A mouse is miracle enough
to stagger sextillions of infidels.
—Walt Whitman

Negative Capability Press
Mobile, Alabama
1995


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Negative Capability Press
62 Ridgelawn Drive East
Mobile, Alabama 36608

Copyright 1995 by Richard Moore

All Rights Reserved

Printed in the United States of America
First Edition

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Cover Art: John Blee


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author wishes to thank The Countryman Press, which published
Part I of this poem in 1983, and the editors of the publications
in which excerpts first appeared:

Light: "The Mouse's Wedding," 54 lines from Book IV
Negative Capability: "From a Mouse Epic: The Mouse's Poor
Appetite," the opening 140 lines of Book I; "From a Mouse Epic:
Tailless Dugan," 187 lines from Book IV
The Ontario Review: "From a Mouse Epic: The Mouse's Departure
from the Pedagogical Rat," the concluding 251 lines from Book II
Plains Poetry Journal: "From a Mouse Epic: The Seduction of
Genevieve," 339 lines from Book III


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In Memory of the Golden Mouse


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FOREWORD

It must be ten or a dozen years now since Dick Moore asked me to
read this tale of a mouse and tell him—Dick, not the mouse—what
I thought of it, and, if I thought well enough, to use my immense
authority in the world of letters to help get it published.

I hesitated a bit—as which of us wouldn't, Reader, on being
invited to read an epic in five books written by a mouse in
trimeter couplets?—but if hesitation was the first response
curiosity was the next and wouldn't leave me alone; what did this
mouse have to relate that was so remarkable?

The first thing that I found on reading was that this mouse—who
must remain nameless for now, as his name is not revealed until
Book Three—was continuously interesting and wrote his trimeter
couplets as well as most, with a somewhat byronic ingenuity at
finding some of the most horrifying rimes yet known to mice or
men. Byron had done as ill and well as to match "intellectual"
with "henpecked you all" and "Euxine" (the Black Sea) with
"passenger e'er pukes in," and Moore's Mouse does quite as well,
or ill. Besides, this mouse had lived a life much more
adventurous and exciting and essentially critical than my own, a
quest for learning, love, truth and freedom prescriptive for the
growth of a mouse's mind and winding up, as other such journeys
have done, with life eternal achieved at last though as usual not
quite distinguishable from death, or dream.

The fact that I willingly offered my immense authority in the
world of letters to help get the poem published may not all by
itself be responsible for its having all these ten or a dozen
years remained unpublished; my powers, though great, are not all
that great. Indeed, as I remember it, it was only the mere three
publishers I thought my influence might be greatest with that
turned it down; were they men, we wondered, or mice?

But now the poem exists in the immortality of print, having
overcome even my help in making it to that state; imitating in
this respect, perhaps, the mouse himself, who in winning through
to a place among the stars successfully transcended (a) family,
(b) wife, (c) literary criticism, and (d) his Mouse, or Muse.

Reader, may you find as thoughtful a pleasure as I did, years ago
and now, in this tale of a tail about the sewers we build our
cathedrals on. If even a mouse may not merely survive but
prevail, what of ourselves? I think that we in the most advanced
society the world has ever known must acknowledge as deep an
affinity with the soul of a rodent as we did once before, when we
erected Disneyland upon the fortunes of a pair of mice.

Howard Nemerov
12 iii 78


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CONTENTS

PART I The Education of a Mouse

Book I
Book II

PART II The Marriage of a Mouse

Book III
Book IV

PART III The Apotheosis of a Mouse

Book V


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PART ONE
THE EDUCATION OF A MOUSE
BOOK I

Then scarcely a full-grown mouse
with a sewer instead of a house
(and a dismal sewer at that,
more suited, you'd think, to a rat)—
of my family the youngest member,
for as long as I can remember
I'd longed for a life more pure
than that to be found in a sewer.
I loathed the "unseemly stains"
that float down city drains:
the offal and the sludge
and all the various slimes
that caught in our corner at times
and stuck, and wouldn't budge;
the scraps of tainted meat
dumped down there from the street,
the thousands of rotten eggs,
the tons of coffee dregs,
the spinach, the peas, and the beans,
and the other assorted greens
and potato and orange peels
that my family collected for meals.

O how distasteful it was.
to fast—ah—to fast.
How sweet
never again to eat.
Until at last
(Distasteful though it was)
one does.

One has a magnificent feast;
one stuffs and stuffs like a beast.
But O, the guilt, the remorse
one feels, after every course:
one feels disgracefully gluttonous—
then gnaws something beefy or muttonous.

I was a sensitive soul.
My life in that dark hole
offended my delicate taste.
With a Civilization's waste
I remained unsatisfied;
and "Could there be an outside?"
I wondered, and watched those massed
and sluggish waters creep past
and gazed in the dismal distance
and dreamed of another existence.

My family thought me "heretic."
My father was unsympathetic.
He would say that I was so finicky
that I made him wish there had been a key
that would snap my little mouth open.
But my mother could put little hope in
such cruel (though witty) abuse:
such a key would be of no use
she insisted, as if in fear
such a key might really appear
and give me a terrible shock
since I really wasn't a lock.
She hated to see me maligned.
She tried to be tender and kind
and often, when we were alone,
would even attempt to condone
the curious ways that I acted:
perhaps a disease I'd contracted
might somehow have been the cause.
Then—after an awkward pause—
she had fears that I might have been fatally...
damaged somehow...prenatally.
Perhaps those coffee grounds
that father, swimming his rounds,
collected and carried home
while I was still in her womb,
and on which she'd mostly subsisted,
had made me so warped and twisted.

She'd felt so nervous, so torn
inside, before I was born...
and father had fumed and bossed
her about so ... I'd almost been lost.

My elder sister and brother,
who seldom agreed with my mother
and seldomer still with each other,
found their thinking in this the same.
They found me completely to blame.
My mother, they'd noticed, had spoiled me.
(She ought, said my sister, have boiled me
and served me up cooked in a stew.
My mother saidthat was untrue.)
The fact that I'd been so pampered,
they said, was what mostly had hampered
my normal and fruitful unfolding.
What I needed most was a scolding.
Poor mother was sadly deluded;
and thus they neatly concluded:

"When a mouse is allowed
to be naughty,
he'll get overproud
and haughty."

—Which my father would loudly applaud
till my mother was overawed.
Yet none would saywhy when I dieted
they were all so greatly disquieted.

But mother, dear mother,
how they all managed to smother
your generous inclinations,
with their loud talking,
their raucous, raw,
ridiculous orations
always balking
that sense of finer things,
of clear and untouched springs
or blue luminous skies
I sometimes saw
in your dim hairy eyes.

Such a sense, I am certain, shined
in the depths of her dim little mind,
and perhaps those others who'd brawl so
occasionally sensed it also;
for all their obnoxious abuses
seemed pompous evasions, excuses
to keep the truth from themselves:
that I was a creature who delves
into questions they wished unasked:
to a face they would rather leave masked,
as flesh better hidden in fur:
to the knowledge of what they were.
And how could they venture to dwell
on the thought of a delicate smell?
Suspicions of heavenly light
beyond their pestilent night
could only have brought them to know
their wretchedness there below.
Clear water would have acquainted them
with all the poisons that tainted them
and polluted their mind and spirit.
(No wonder they wouldn't go near it
when I found that fresh little runnel
a few feet down our tunnel.)
Whenever I wouldn't eat
some morsel of rancid meat,
they tasted the bitter curse
at the core of the universe.

We lived in a section of pipe
of the ancient stony type,
deserted long since and neglected.
At a place where sections connected
a crack—or perhaps a fault—
had crumbled the side of the vault
where roots had attempted to cramp
down through to where it was damp
and with slow resistless intent
had broken the solid cement,
as if something within had exploded.
The soil behind had eroded
and left a space recessed
where my family'd established its nest.

O little home
of mousehood mirth
now far away,
is your damp dome
of moldy earth
still there today?

Or have disputes
shaken your vault
with family trouble,
and some dark root's
thirsty assault
poked you to rubble?

The current that passed below
was calm as a rule and slow
but carried us little of use.
Downstream it entered a sluice
that was rich in nutritious stuff
but turbulent, noisy and rough;
and only my father much tried
to swim in that treacherous tide
among boards, old boxes, and slats—
and sometimes ravenous rats:
for my brother described to me once
how on one of our father's hunts
a rat leaped out of a pail
and devoured half of his tail.
He was lucky to flee with his life
back home to his squeaking wife.
It was this catastrophic mission
that had ruined his disposition
and, my brother continued slyly,
made him curse his family so vilely
and throw such terrible fits
poor mother'd go out of her wits.
Her behavior had to be wily
never to anger or bother
our morbidly sensitive father.

O, dear father,
though doubtless I should praise you
since it was my sweet lot
by you to be begot,
I'm sure it won't amaze you,
but O, dear father,
somehow I'd rather
not.

Those who in a spasm
of hot enthusiasm
thoughtlessly beget us:
how soon do they regret us?
The unseen drop they gave,
the driblet they presented,
a millionfold augmented,
returns, as from the grave.

O father,
what made you turn so pale?
Was it my long new tail?

Our world had a source of light
not far upstream to the right
where the glow from a passageway
distinguished our night from our day.
Each morning its gentle beam
would play on the bumpy stream
and glow through the hazy murk
as we rose to our daily work.
That passage—so luminous,
so faithful—was sacred to us.
At the end of every week
we gathered below it to seek
fresh comfort from its powers
and stayed there several hours.
Those sessions of peaceful devotion
were mainly my mother's notion
who believed in "Something Supreme."

"It's fine," said my father, "to dream.
But I put less stock in such feelings
than I do in potato peelings."

"Is this the time for your joking?"
mother'd answer, "the time to be poking
your fun at things so mysterious?
Do you ever try to be serious
or think who you're joking among
or how you're affecting the young
or think of our youngest child?"

My father wryly smiled:
"Can't I say that potato peelings
are good, without hurting your feelings?
They're delicious. Perhaps I'm defeating
your hopes to improve his eating.
Every day he gets thinner and thinner.
Poor fellow, he can't eat his dinner.
He's dreaming. But just the same
it's only myself who's to blame.
I can see that my guilt's prodigious."

"If you weren't so sacrilegious
and hadn't always cursed
and always looked for the worst
and been a more willing begetter
and loved your children better....
I try to think how we're blessed,
how things turn out for the best,
come out and grow up for good
if they're properly understood.
Just look at our growing mice.
Would you sell them for any price?
And look at our youngest baby.
he's a little ornery maybe
with his moodiness and his fasting.
But it never turns out to be lasting.
He'll drop his peculiar ways.
They're only a passing phase.
Why I think he's the best little mouse
we've gotanywhere in the house."

Then mother grabbed and caressed me
before them—which somewhat distressed me—
and I squirmed: her guilty spurious
sentiments made me furious,
and there was my father observing.
What could be more unnerving?

And then he'd go on with his mocking,
and mother with finding him shocking,
till at last, if he still persisted,
her eyes became clouded and misted.
Father'd look for support from the others
in this latest gambit of mother's.
They were silent. He'd say something breezy
and gay...then become uneasy
and stutter irresolutely—
then stop—and we'd all stand mutely.
Then he'd see that his humor'd gone stale,
and he'd twitch at the stub of his tail.

But that bringer of night and day,
that curious passageway
of which mother and I were so fond,
seemed the sign of some Great Beyond,
some radiance higher and truer
than the dark travail of our sewer.
Few mice seem disposed temperamentally
to think about life transcendentally,
and my brother and sister inclined
to be of my father's mind
when the family gathered below it,
and even found ways to show it,
by sneezing, for instance, or coughing
to show they were secretly scoffing
with father, who yawned and drowsed;
yet the fright that its light aroused
gave them all some faith to put in it,
and no one dared set foot in it,
not even my blasphemous father
(who "hadn't the time to bother")—
that is, no one excepting myself.

One day I climbed to the shelf,
where the passage was bright and dry,
and saw in the glittering distance
dark bars against the sky—
the sky whose very existence
was to me completely unknown.
How brilliantly blue it shone.
Drawn on by the light, by a fate
beyond mice, I crept to that grate,
which burned with a glow so intense
it seemed to shatter my sense.
A booming shook in my ear
and my body crawled with fear
when a shadow above me passed
with a rumbling deep and vast.
Was it Heaven out there? Was it Hell?
I was ignorant. How could I tell?
And I fled back into my hole.
Yet something began in my soul
on that tumultuous day
that was never to fade away.

I'd often creep to the edge
of the lowest part of the ledge
and gaze at that grated sky.
The passage was usually dry;
but once when the sky was gray,
down the darkened passageway
(which was, I learned later, a drain)
came torrents of turbulent rain.
Then suddenly I was aware
as it soaked in my greasy hair
and dampened my shivering flesh
that that water was almost fresh....

Ah! Could there be
in Creation
things free
of contamination?

Could there exist
fresh springs
that I'd missed
in the sewer of things?

Was the universe mined
with wells
I could find
and maybe sweet smells?

Many days I excitedly pondered
these thoughts—and pondering, wandered
right into the fresh little runnel
that leaked from the side of our tunnel
a few feet down the shore.
Why hadn't I found it before?
Was Heaven up there to show us
what earth conceals below us?
And I'd sit there musing alone
on worlds beyond us unknown.

My appetite grew worse.
My father continued to curse.
When I'd mention the runnel, he'd shout it
was nothing, he knew all about it.

"Well mother," he'd say, "in this phase he's
in now, he's bringing home daisies
and dreams of fresh water. Fresh water.
Does he know what life is? It's slaughter,
it's swim, fight, kill or be killed.
It's keeping your stomach filled."

My brother, though awfully afraid,
was learning the family trade:
the methods my father'd found
to keep from being drowned
or treacherously attacked
while swimming the cataract.
I foresaw that I'd shortly lose
my freedom to dream and muse
and that youth's long thoughts were fleeting.
I tried to restrict my eating.
I'd drink fresh water and brood
on this nasty craving for food
and think: if I could disdain it
completely, I needn't obtain it,
need I? My father in rage
said I'd shortly become of age
and wouldn't have half my strength
when I'd reached my full-grown length.
O God, was there no way of slowing
this hideous process of growing?
I longed to vanish, to wilt
away. Was it fear?

                               Was it guilt?
Could mother see in my face
that I'd been in her holy place?

One day in a desperate mood
tormented by thoughts of food,
I clambered into that skylight
to wait for the hour of twilight,
and there before my view
was an object strange and new.

But how had it come there, I wondered?
And by whom to be nibbled and plundered?
I grasped a corner and chewed.
It certainly wasn't food.
Was it something the light of the sun
had somehow magically spun
and for unknown purposes left
down there in a favorite cleft?
Then Who was its Unseen Shaper?
It was made, I suspected, of paper—
not knowing what paper was.
(What mouse of that age ever does?)
I reviewed all my knowledge: in vain.

Then deep in my pea-sized brain
as I gazed at it long and fast,
I knew what it was at last,
and found all my theories absurd
as I struggled to shape the word:
it was anen-ve-lope.
I nudged it down the slope
and tried as I did so to guess
its meaning, its form, its address—
then saw with a swell of pride
that on its written-on side
near the corner I'd recently nibbled
the word "Personal" was scribbled.

I surveyed it ecstatically.
Then was it intended for me?
In my small but jubilant brain
as I inched it down the drain
wild thoughts ignited and spun:
hadI been ordained by the sun
to accomplish the will of the skies
with this object before my eyes?

What awful responsibilities
fall on those endowed with abilities.
I resolved to accept the pledge,
and I nosed it down to the ledge—
to the ledge, where my happy discovery
lifted, slipped on the brink,
and vanished—beyond recovery:
for an envelope surely would sink
in those depths that gurgled below
where mice were unable to go
and be bared to the loathsome wishes
of snails, worms, cold-blooded fishes
who'd pick at it, sodden and torn....
I looked over the ledge to mourn
and bewail with swimming eyes
the loss of my Heaven-sent prize
as though it were Heaven's own daughter....

But there she sat on the water.

I watched her in bliss. I doted.
The miraculous object floated.
It remained distinct from the slime
as if cleansed of the poisons of time,
of the murderous filth and decay
that resistlessly washes away
every noble thing of worth
in this dark and hollow earth.
Long after I'd passed through a drain,
that envelope there would remain.
"O carry me with you!" I cried—
but my squeakings echoed and died
through the tunnel's resounding caves
while that envelope bobbed on the waves.

But as I observed its motion,
a wild and unheard-of notion
rose up in my feverish mind:
was there some way I could find,
some method by which I could bind,
using all of my mousy wits,
my destiny firmly to its?

This thought seemed somehow related
to my hatred of all that I hated.
How often with yearning emotion
I'd pictured that sunlit ocean,
whose clear deep surface lies
and heaves under infinite skies,
that we mice knew dimly in fable.
Could that envelope somehow enable
a creature such as I
to sail out under that sky,
so luminous, golden, and wide?

"To sail!" and "Eureka!" I cried,
"That envelope knows how to float.
I'll put it to use as a boat.
Perhaps with its magic assistance
I'll discover that ocean's existence."

But there wasn't a moment to lose.
I slithered down to the ooze
where the object I thought so uplifting
little by little was drifting
downstream to the family house.

And suppose that it carried a mouse....
My family would all be amazed
and myself universally praised
beyond all question of caviling
for my modish method of traveling.

But there wasn't a moment to spare,
and I slipped and scurried to where,
a few feet up from our door,
it had lightly touched on the shore
and leapt out onto my craft:
and O, what a glorious raft,
I exclaimed, as the water held us
midstream (where my leap had propelled us).

But I must have committed some blunder,
for the raft began to go under,
and ever more frantic and worried,
round and round it I scurried,
backing and turning and twisting
to counter each sudden listing...
until I solved that riddle
by standing pat in the middle,
where at every hint of a lurch
I'd carefully shift my perch
and find in my body an answer
with the poise and skill of a dancer.
But for all my delicate trimming,
it sank, and left me swimming.

In disgust I swam for the shore.
The shore was our own front door,
to which, unawares, I'd drifted
while attempting to be uplifted,
and behind it was mother, peeking.
She must have heard me squeaking.
It all seemed a horrible dream.

I turned and swam downstream,
and two feet down with a shiver
climbed out of that stinking river
and sat on a stone in despair
and thought of my dripping hair
and how long it would take to dry...
then out of the side of my eye
saw the envelope floating by.
And I thought of the fatuous hopes
stirred up by envelopes
and of all the fools who must love them.
Was it the nature of them?
Or did only mice feel blessed
when they found themselves addressed
in unfamiliar writing
without the least inviting?

In the midst of these gloomy and dark
meditations, I thought of that mark
on it, "Personal"—meant for me—
and remembered the ecstasy
I'd felt when I found it new
and crisp—and what if I knew
how to use it?—and thinking how brave it
could be, I leapt in to save it.

I nosed it along the tunnel
to where the fresh little runnel
I'd found a few days before
gushed down through a groove in the shore,
near which was a rocky fjord
in which I could keep it stored
until I should either be through with it
or figure out something to do with it.
It hadn't been badly mauled,
I saw, when I got it installed;
and something waxlike coating it
kept the water from bloating it.
I noted all this with relief,
and hoping to soothe my grief,
I knelt down and washed in the brook
where it leaked from the tunnel, and took
a long and refreshing drink;
and then I sat down to think.

I thought of my dear close relatives
and of all the repulsive appellatives
they'd apply to me cruelly to mock
and make me their laughing stock....
Then losing all sense of time,
I sat on the rocks and the slime
and gazed at the sick yellow foam
and sought the strength to go home.

But when I arrived there that night,
they looked at me almost in fright.
Mother'd watched every curious antic
as out in the river and frantic
I'd attempted to stay afloat;
but she hadn't detected the boat.
It had heaved and rocked and surged,
but my weight had kept it submerged.
To my family's innocent thinking,
my ignominious sinking
was neither comic nor tragic:
for it all seemed the purest magic.
To my father, my sister and brother,
and especially to my mother,
who with her gaping daughter
had watched me walk on the water
and told the astonished others
(God bless all gullible mothers),
I'd seemed some kind of a demon
instead of an inept seaman.

But although I played up the part
with all of my mousy heart,
I sensed with a vague distress
it was failure they'd called a success
and that, if I'd really succeeded,
my success might have gone unheeded.
Does greatness, this made me wonder,
always hide some terrible blunder?
would the great ones be respected
if the mob ever really detected
the source of their marvelous powers,
the soil and the roots of their flowers?

But that night I'd a marvelous dream.
I saw myself by our stream
and up to me slowly drift
my inexplicable gift,
and it filled me as ever with awe;
yet with fierce and trembling paw
I began in the darkness to grope in it,
as if I were seeking to open it;
and when it came open, I cried,
and I joyously leapt inside,
and we floated away on the tide....

That morning I wakened with joy,
for at last I knew how I'd employ
that Heaven-sent object I'd found.
Though I stood some chance to be drowned,
I resolved that without delay
—the very first thing that day—
that I'd boldly tell them all
—yes, tell them, and let it appall,
and let them all rage and scoff—
that I meant that day to be off.

"You've been off for quite some time,"
said my father. "For my part, I'm
relieved and happy to find
one son so insanely inclined
as to set out in search of oceans.
Your mother with her fine notions
and even my sensible daughter
have told me you walk on the water.
I'm not the one to deny it,
so go on out there and try it.
But when you get ready to leave,
don't expect me to stand here and grieve."

"O how can you be so cruel,"
cried mother. "Be careful or you'll
make him leave out of nothing but stubbornness.
Do you think you can find any rubberness
in that stiff little neck of his?
You know how stubborn he is.
But I think you want him to leave.
He's always been your pet peeve.
You saw that his mother favored him,
and so you never much savored him.
I think you were just plain jealous.
So now you've got the nerve to tell us
that you don't care if he'll sail or not.
But you cared if he had his whole tail or not!"

She was wild, with her bulging eyes
not easy to recognize
—and the fur ruffled over her face.
My father turned in his place
as she circled him, calling him names
and recalling his deepest shames.
He seemed for the moment bewitched;
but his tail-stub fitfully twitched,
and his chin was visibly quivering,
and we children waited, shivering.
Would she shout him to death, I wondered?

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" father suddenly thundered.

The echoing cave fell still.

Then mother resumed with a will:
"You made him the butt of your laughter.
And why?  He'd taken after
his mother—for no other reason.
You thought it was family treason.
You saw that his mother loved him,
so you taunted and bullied and shoved him,
so he dreamed of a place that was sunny,
so your laughter wasn't so funny,
so he's said just now...

                             "THAT'S ENOUGH!"

"O stop that threatening stuff."

But she'd hardly said this when she saw
that he'd raised his right front paw;
and again the room grew still.

Then her eyes began to fill:
"Not a word about his survival....
You were angry at his arrival.
When I bore him, you said..."

                             "THAT'S ENOUGH!"

The paw looked hard and rough.
The silence grew deep and hollow,
and I waited for something to follow.

But the storm and the thunder had passed.
Too windy and rainy to last,
mother's squalling, quelled by a shout
from father, had blown itself out.
She sat there in lachrymose gloom.

My father had left the room
(No doubt held gone off to brood
on the risking of life for food
and the folly of him who fetches
the food of ungrateful wretches),
and mother saw us there waiting,
the results of her lifetime of mating,
and whimpered in deep remorse
and said in a voice grown hoarse
(yet to make up for how she was voiced,
her misty eyes were moist
and glittered, saintly and starry):

"O my dears, I'm so terribly sorry
we have to have scenes like this
and you poor dears never miss
a thing that we do or say in them
and see all our faults on display in them.
Your father is so sarcastic,
so hide-bound, so inelastic...."

"He certainly is," said my brother.

"He's what?" requested my mother.

"Why, hide-bound, sarcastic, mulish,
and sometimes downright foolish.
Each time he kicks up a row,
I can't imagine how
you've managed to get along with him."

"Are you saying there's anything wrong with him?"
retorted my mother in fury.
"D'you think you're a judge and a jury
to pass judgment on someone like him?
You hardly know how to swim.
Why I'll tell you a thing or two,
and believe me, it's nothing new:
your father's the finest gray mouse
you can point to in this whole house
and maybe in this whole sewer,
and sometimes I think that you're...."

I thought that I'd best interrupt;
I hated to seem abrupt,
but they might have gone on forever
and spoiled my entire endeavor,
so I said it was time I got started.

"My son...I'll be broken hearted,"
cried mother—her tears began flowing.
"You don't really mean that you're going?
Poor dear, we all so neglect you,
so you said that to make us respect you.
It's a story you've only repeated
because you've been vilely treated.
You heard it somewhere in a tale
('The Mouse Who Went on a Sail')
when our relatives came to dinner—
that awful Uncle Skinner!
Your father's family...to think...
but my son, you'll certainly sink.
And with no one at all around
to save you from being drowned....
My son, you must be delirious.
You certainly can't be serious.
I knew it was nothing but talking."

"But mother, you've seen me walking..."

"O yes dear, I know—and I've known it.
all along I've...and now you've shown it.
and you made your mother so proud.
the things you won't do, if allowed.
how did you?...I'll bet that I've guessed.
You've been into my medicine chest,
and you've swallowed some kind of a potion.
But it won't make you walk on the ocean.
You'd best stay home with your mother...

"O rats!" interrupted my brother.
"Just let him go if he wishes.
Let him say hello to the fishes.
Let him go. I mean that seriously.
All his life he's been acting mysteriously,
as though he didn't belong here.
He thinks there's something wrong here.
What else does he mean by his fasting?
It's a method he's found of contrasting
himself with all the rest of us.
He sneers at the whole squeaking nest of us.
Whatever we treasure or prize
he imagines he has to despise,
and all that the family's gained
little sonny's politely disdained
and politely but firmly rejected.
He's afraid that it's somehow infected
and that he's too pure to swallow it.
It's his idea: let him follow it.
Let him go and get a good souse;
then he won't be upsetting the house."

Though he'd misconstrued my behavior,
I saw in my brother my savior,
and with all the guile known to mice
I endorsed his sarcastic advice.
I pleaded and wheedled and urged....

"But you're sure that you won't be submerged?"
mother asked. "This thing that you've got:
will it keep you afloat or not?
This floating I've never understood."

I assured her it certainly would.
Could mother doubt me? Her question
niggled. A dream's suggestion
has all I had for surety
I'd float to that Realm of Purity.
I'd wanted to work out alone
the method the dream had shown
which now seemed obscure and hazy.
If I failed, they'd think I was crazy,
impractical. I would be shaken,
sneered at....This risk must be taken.

"I keep her," I said, "by that brook.
Shall we go there and have a look?"

"Is that what he calls his craft?"
father cried, and derisively laughed.
They'd all come along—all four—
and stood there high on the shore
while I scurried about beneath.
I gripped my boat in my teeth
and pulled her out of her dock,
a crevice deep in the rock:
but how could I keep her moored
in the water to climb on board?...
I trembled deep in my bones
as I pulled her among the stones
that lay half sunken about
(deposited there, no doubt,
by our tunnel's gradual crumbling)
for I heard my father mumbling:
"Is that what he's found of use
out of all the things in the sluice—
a thing he can hardly move?
God knows what he's trying to prove."

'All I do,' I thought, 'he mocks.'
And I dragged her between two rocks,
so she lay there poised in the stream
as she had last night in the dream.
Then I clambered up on a stone....
What was it the dream had shown,
I frantically tried to recall
as I crouched there—the dark little ball
of my body all slimy and dripping—
being careful to keep from slipping
and thinking how all of them watched....
O God, and what if I botched?
When I thought of the risks I was taking,
all four of my knees started quaking.

'He thinks I'll be overawed,'
I thought; and I angrily pawed
and lifted the envelope's flap
until with a muffled snap
it hinged up high and wide
and came down on the other side.
I held it down with a paw.
Then over the edge I saw
that inside was a narrow space,
and I arched my tail to the place,
and it yielded, though not very much,
to my tail-tip's tentative touch.
Then with fore-paws tenaciously gripping
the rock to keep me from slipping,
I eased my hind-quarters around.
And then—Ah bliss—I found
that I slowly began to nestle
down into my tiny vessel;
and I seated myself amidships.
My hind-paws, belly, and hips,
which I carefully wedged inside,
opened the envelope wide,
while under its flap my snout
was free to swivel about
and sniff at the passing airs
as water dripped from the hairs
of my forepaw, dangling out.

My family sent up a shout
in which I heard no mocks
as I pushed with my paws at the rocks
and my vessel slid smoothly away
and lightly began to sway.
I had to use all of my talents
to keep the contraption in balance,
but she worked, O she worked! And I knew
that the dream I had had was true
and at last I was under way.

I heard mother quietly pray;
then her prayer turned into a wail;
then she stopped and, "Have a good sail!"
she called through her tears and sobbing.
And I thought as I sat out there bobbing,
'She sounds as though I intend
a morning's trip to the bend.'

Ah, mother, how did it seem?
A remote, unbelievable dream?

You probably had a hunch
I'd be home for an early lunch.
The others stood awkward and mute;
and every family dispute,
both of their and of my own making,
seemed resolved in my undertaking.

And suddenly I grew prouder
and my heart beat a little louder
underneath my sticky fur;
for I knew nothing now could deter
my escape from that dismal sewer
out into the Realm of the Pure:
that, perhaps after terrible troubles,
I would float at last on its bubbles
and, after hard jolts and jars,
see sunlight and moonlight and stars.

BOOK II

Up the tunnel the round faint glimmer
of home grew smaller and dimmer—
like a moon backing out of the sky,
no one watching on earth knew why,
receding from night so sadly—
as if someone had treated her badly.
My family was there on the shore,
but visible now no more
as the dark closed in all around,
the dark into which I was bound.
And even that glimmer would go
when the current's relentless flow
had carried me down to the bend.
Was there light at the other end?
But O, how it now seemed so far,,
where sunlight and moonlight are
—or are they? (I suddenly thought)
and here I am, helplessly caught
in a stream going nowhere at all....

Did I hear my mother call?
They were there—still were—in the gloom
—or were they? You had to assume—
assume that the things about you
went right on existing without you
in a world that would still continue,
though vanished without and within you
as you wandered far and wide
in an envelope lost on the tide,
attempting to picture your past....

And then it eludes you at last,
and you feel so hopeless without it
you begin in despair to doubt it
and speculate long and darkly
on theories deriving from Berkeley.
(Worse yet: when you don't know that name,
you can have those thoughts just the same.)

But you have to believe that it sleeps
in its own and your dark deeps,
in the depths of your gurgling brain
like a family of mice in a drain,
and accept this sleeping reality
in its non-existent finality—
a conception no mind can avoid
according to someone named Freud.

You had to accept the dregs
of coffee, the rotten eggs,
the spinach, the peas, and the beans,
and the other assorted greens,
and the morsels of tainted meat
swept down from an unknown street...
O those jovial family meals,
those delicious orange peels
that we sometimes had for dessert....
When I lay somewhere bleeding and hurt,
who would come to staunch my bleeding?
And what would I do about feeding,
now I was drifting into
a world that I'd never been to?
O those wonderful orange peelings!

And I cursed my delicate feelings
that had driven me into that gloom
that would doubtless turn into my tomb—
or my crypt—I was wondering which,
when my haunch had a furious itch:
a flea—and I wiggled to scratch it
and darted a paw to catch it
before it could hide in my coat—
but I nearly upset the boat.

While musing so sadly and direly,
I'd forgotten my vessel entirely;
and that magical Heaven-sent gift
in which I'd determined to drift
courageously and alone
down into that dark unknown
had almost ceased to buoy me
because a flea could annoy me.
The thought made me shiver and sweat:
how easy it was to forget.

If it hadn't been for my tail,
that flea would have ended my sail;
but thanks to that organ's agility
and the envelope's flexibility,
I'd kept on an even keel:
its delicate sense of feel
extending deep in the stern
detected the slightest turn,
the minutest sway or dip
of my fragile and papery ship;
and while I was unaware
of all but that flea in my hair
till I found the whole vessel tipping,
my tail was tenaciously gripping
and counteracted the list
with a deft and powerful twist
in the opposite direction
which righted my craft to perfection.
I not only steadied the hull with it:
I even found I could scull with it.

O tail, O tail,
thou fulcrum and thou lever;
thou rudder and thou oar;
thou hinge upon the door
of my great squeaking endeavor,
which opens, as I hope,
into a bright beyond;
thou secret bond
between this envelope
and him who rides it;
thou means by which he guides it
unknowing, unawares;
thou thing devoid of hairs;
thou secret sense
subtler and more intense
than all intelligence;
thou purer
intuition
far surer
than volition;
guide me to what I seek!

Who said that the flesh was weak?
that flesh was of no avail,
that flesh was doomed to fail?

He couldn't have had a tail.

But suddenly all went dark.
My fragile and bouncing barque
spun round and rolled and pitched.
My God, is this tunnel bewitched?
was the first thing I frantically wondered
as the darkness above me thundered
and echoed through unseen caves
with the roar of invisible waves
around me splashing and churning
and making me dizzy with turning
and bumping on flotsam and jetsam
as I clung there frightened and fretsome—
had the waters of Hell broken loose?

Then I realized I'd entered the sluice.

O vast and horrible hole;
O darkness of the soul;
O life, so swirling and furious,
miasmal, dismal, injurious;
O life that was father's undoing;
what terrors now are you brewing
in your boiling and fanged interior?
Will I prove my father's inferior
and go home at last at a crawl
without any tail at all?

O terrible tunnel;
in your dark depths do you funnel
stray mice with your other debris
out into the open sea?
Do you send them out there alive?
Or do you deprive
them all of their breath
before they arrive?
Is that ocean merely my death,
the end of my passionate yearning?
Ah, what deep wisdom I'm learning.

O dark fate,
dropped down to me through that grate,
my only companion, my gift,
O deep and relentless motion,
can we only discover that ocean
by setting ourselves adrift?
Is there no way of solving
your riddle, O sewer,
without this threat of dissolving?

O life, thou gradual dying!
O hairs, with no hope of drying!

How long I went on without light
through that roaring and hideous night,
that awful invisible vision
of monstrous shapes in collision
with hollow booms and crashes
and ominous nearby splashes
in that wild and capricious current
with my tail as the only deterrent
from getting myself overturned,
was something I never discerned:
I had neither the means to measure
the passage of time, nor the leisure,
but sat there and ached and sweated
with my hair getting constantly wetted
by the gummy spray and the spume
shooting out of that seething gloom.

My tail was steering with skill;
but the boat was beginning to fill.
I clutched with a paw at the rail
and tried with the other to bail;
but I feared that the sewer was gaining,
for in spite of my splashing and straining,
the ooze, like a soup or a jelly,
was sloshing about my belly,
and I sensed, though my senses were groggy,
my envelope getting, soggy,
for the surface inside was porous.
"O God!" I cried, "Don't ignore us!"

But God didn't seem to hear me;
and I moaned as my end drew near me:
for facing one's death isn't easy—
and besides, my stomach felt queasy
from all that bouncing and bobbing.
Was death really coming? And robbing
my life of its proper fruition?
Would I die without recognition
far short of my destination,
a failure? O bitter frustration!

Then what were all hopes? Worthless.
I laughed. (My laughter was mirthless.)
Then grimly I spat out a curse
at the sickening universe:
"O come with your foul malignity,
death! I wait with dignity,
wait in my dripping hair."

And then in a wave of despair,
I yielded myself to the night....
But what did I see? A light.
It seemed suffused over stones.
I became aware of my groans
in the midst of that cataract's roar,
and I silently sculled for the shore
beginning so hugely to loom
like a ghost from the depths of a tomb.
My God, am I dead already,
I thought, as I entered an eddy
that swung my vessel around?
My God, and what if I've drowned?
Did I hear a Heavenly psalm?
The waters were growing calm.
Is that light from some Heavenly fire?
Do I hear a celestial choir?
O God, I've certainly drowned.
And then I ran aground.

The shore had a gentle slope.
I climbed from my envelope
and drew her up on the land;
and I tried to understand,
as I sat there confused and alone
on the solid, though slippery, stone,
what refuge this was I had found.
Could it really be that I'd drowned?
Was I still in the same existence?
The cataract roared in the distance.
Yes, still in the depths of the night.
But above from a fathomless height
a faintly luminous ray
seemed to feel out its airy way
and, pallid and weakened, fall
down the length of a cavernous wall
and expire in darkness below.
A sort of breeze seemed to blow;
my snout felt its gentle pressure,
and the odors it carried seemed fresher
than the stench from the stagnant foam
that had welled up around our home.
Near here was where father'd collected
the food I'd so often rejected.
had he known that the turbulent roar
was calmer along the shore?
Had he come to this place and sat?
And where had he met with the rat?

I swallowed with sudden fear.
There behind me—what did I hear?
I darted around in fright.
Had something there moved to the right?

My furry chest was mounding
as I stared in the darkness surrounding:
the bodiless wall of the dark.
Something moved. A shadow. A spark.
Two sparks. Then the sparks were eyes
in a shape of enormous size.
I wanted to run to escape
that horrible monstrous shape,
those glaring and ravenous eyes...
but I lacked even strength to rise.
Yet the thing was advancing closer.
I worked my mouth, but, "O, Sir..."
was all I could manage to say.

"Well look what's happed by the way:
A mouse. Just calmly sitting.
I squat here and tend to my knitting
and watch the world go by,
and as soon as I shut one eye
to rest my bones with a snooze:
A mouse.  You taking a cruise?
That's dangerous. Where you from, boy?
Aw come on....You deaf and dumb, boy?...
Aw tell papa something nice.
I've a taste for the tales of you mice—
that's a pun, boy—or should I say, 'girlie'?
You look like your hair'd be curly
if you'd ever let it get dry."

I struggled to make a reply,
but I couldn't. I seemed entranced
as the apparition advanced.
Great whiskers appeared. Then teeth.
Then a powerful jawbone beneath.
A face drawn into a frown.
Huge claws. A body all brown
and furry and—horribly fat!

"Aw come on. Say hello to the rat.
You frightened? You do look nervous.
It's only Old Nick—at your service."

He crossed a paw to his breast,
and as if held just addressed
a large and admiring crowd,
he ceremoniously bowed
and smiled with mock humility,
a picture of perfect gentility.

"Then you won't devour me, mister?"

"What a girl he...I couldn't resist her.
'Devour,' he says, 'Devour me.'
You'd think he aimed to deflower me.
I'm shocked at the very suggestion.
You'd upset my fickle digestion.
Did you get that word? It was 'fickle'.
It rhymes with 'pickle' and 'tickle.'
'Devour.' He said that. 'Devour me.'
I suppose you don't think you'd sour me.
Now don't go throwing temptations.
You'll ruin our early relations.
Yeah I caught one once by the tail;
it was just a little stale,
and I spat the thing right out.
What a thing to be talking about
to a poor little innocent mouse
who's lost the way to his house—
so vulgar. Forgive old Nick.
But the thing almost made me sick."

"M-Mister."

                  "Yeah?"

                              "W-Was it all
of his tail—perhaps you recall—
or perhaps it was only a half."

I heard a strange little laugh.
"Well if that's not the darndest question.
How should I know? It spoilt my digestion.
Do I have to go into details?
And describe what you do with tails?
Do I have to spell it all out?
Don't you know what it's all about
with the flowers, the bees, and the birds?
Do I have to use four-letter words?
These mice with their dirty minds.
I could spank their little behinds.
These awful village idiots.
I sometimes think what a pity it's
rats who must serve as the teachers
for such poor unwashed creatures.
Our wild and callous youth.
Have they any reverence for Truth,
for that ray of Heavenly Light
that pierces our earthly night,
or the rat who devotedly bothers?..."

"But I thought it might be my father's...."

"If they'd just think some of the time.
But they sit there and think that I'm
some superannuated playboy
who goes collecting...but say, boy,
what are you doing here?"

His petulance filled me with fear.
But I screwed up my courage to answer:
"I'll tell you as much as I can, Sir.
I've set out in search of the ocean."

"That so. Well Land of Goshen.
(That's a paradox, calling it land,
and a reference you won't understand.)
My God, not another of those.
Where they all come from, God knows.
Out of their muddy holes
with their beautiful sensitive souls;
high-minded pure young males
with delicate quivering tails
and metaphysical doubts
(I wish they'd wipe their snouts)
all upset by the world's decay:
there's too little light in the day—
and the night's so dark, it's awful,
and permits things vile and unlawful.
Yeah who'd even want to nap in
a night where such things can happen?...
Poor delicate souls all alone
in a world that was never their own,
a world of cement and stone
without any live vegetation;
and so rank with contamination,
so perilous, smelly, and slippery,
so full of nonsensical frippery
floating around in the sluice
without any purpose or use;
a world that won't understand them,
but tries all the same to command them
to forget about truth and beauty
and go out and hunt for booty
and wear themselves out with labors
collecting more scraps than the neighbors—
and to feed on those festering morsels
that float all around their doorsills
till they themselves turn rotten—
and die—and are quickly forgotten.
Yeah isn't it tragic and sad?
Too bad it's the best to be had."

"To be had?"

                    "Yeah their elders all blessed it,
but they find it so hard to digest it,
this life without purpose or meaning.
They've been victims of improper weaning.
They never got loose from their mammas
who left 'em with terrible trammas."

"Trammas?"

                  "A word meaning 'dream.'
It connotes that you're off the beam....
So rejecting the world in disdain,
they dream underneath some drain
of how they could be so enlightened—
if the light didn't make 'em so frightened.
O the sorrows of mouse mortality:
the bewildering unreality.
O it can't be real or nutritious.
Yeah maybe it's all fictitious,
this stuff that floats in the stream,
just a dreadful upsetting dream.
Gob after stinking gob:
it must be a put-up job.
So they curse every earthly fetter
and dream about something better,
and imagine some magical portal
they can pass through and be immortal."

"Immortal?"

                "Yeah, and abscond
out into the Great Beyond;
or to say it in plainer words,
they go out and look for the birds.
But en route to the infinite spaces
they stop off here of all places
and raise a big hue and commotion
and ask me the way to the ocean
and whether this world they despise
will float 'em out under the skies.
So I tell 'em something like this:
it's a rare and exclusive bliss
and only the pure in spirit
can ever even get near it.
Without years of disciplining
you can't even make a beginning—
and years of steady refinement
to get your mind in alignment
with the properest canons of taste.
I warn my lads to be chaste
(That is, not to chase female mice),
but they seldom heed my advice.
If they'd self-possession or prudence...
that's all I can give to my students.
God knows, I may be unfit;
but I teach as my lights permit."

"You must be a powerful teacher."

"Why aren't you the charming creature.
These mice are raised so genteelly.
I feel myself flattered really.
Was it mamma who taught you to flatter?
That's only my aimless chatter.
I do have a weakness for speech.
They say it's what's needed to teach.
And you know it's strange, God knows—
did you know I don't speak in prose?
I rant and digress—even curse—
but it always comes out in verse.
Even cursing the filth and the slime
I can't help making it rhyme.
You've probably noticed the fact.
That could be why I attract
the mice who are all so uplifted
and tell me I'm strangely gifted.
I ought to keep modestly quiet,
but it really is hard to deny it
or see how my gifts could be greater—
for which I thank my Creator."

"But you say that I'll have to stay here
perhaps as long as a year?"

"Is there something the matter with that?
Does it pain you to speak with a rat?...
Well you look like a promising boy.
They're the kind that I most enjoy.
You might pass through pretty quick.
Just leave it to good old Nick.
You certainly won't be the first
in whom I've quenched every thirst
and opened the way out there
to the sky and the fresher air—
where the sea-gulls sit on the billows
as wispy and fluffy as pillows
and little birds chirp in the willows
by the side of the ocean's foaming,
and the stars come out in the gloaming
along with the fragrant moon
who plays you a gay little tune;
and then the sun also rises
and fills the world with surprises
and birds and buds go atwitter
in its warm voluptuous glitter
and everything's blue and gold
—as described in the tales of old:
I haven't been out there myself.
my duty's right here on my shelf,
right here minding my P's and Q's—
while I try to keep up with the news
of how all my boys are doing,
and thanklessly labor, construing
to unwashed gents, who stammer
their lessons in squeaking and grammar.
They wouldn't have got to the ocean
without my love and devotion.
It was Nick who taught 'em all how.
They try to forget him now.
Would you guess? Never once have I heard
so much as a peep or a word."

"Maybe word doesn't go upstream."

"Maybe so. But I stick to my theme
and teach bright lads how to get there
and warn them it's stormy and wet there."

"Stormy?"

               "Yeah thunder and lightning,
and violent winds—quite frightening—
and water comes out of the sky
(come up closer—don't be so shy)
fresh water. It's known as rain.
Have you ever been up in a drain?
Then you'd know what I'm talking about."

"You mean where you go and look out
and everything's shining and blue?
We'd a drain where we lived too.
And I think one day I met
that rain....It made me all wet."

"Yeah it does that. Aren't you bright.
Then you know where we get our light.
(Come on now and have a seat
and take a load off your feet.)....
Did you know that's a drain up there?"

He smoothed my ruffled-up hair
as I cautiously sat beside him;
but when I suspiciously eyed him,
he turned his grizzled face
and pointed a paw to the place
where that lofty and luminous ray
came in from the light of day;
and I edged away from him slowly.

"It seems so majestic and holy,"
I said with a voice full of feeling.

"It's a hole, all right—in the ceiling.
It's funny how mice seem to love it."

"I wonder what's out there above it.,'

"God knows. It's a great attraction.
Maybe it shines by refraction,
or perhaps it's only reflection.
But they come here from every direction.
You'd think I was running a shrine.
It's a job to keep 'em in line."

"Do you really conduct a school?"

"Yeah I serve as a kind of fuel
that inflames my students' desires.
We feed our mutual fires
until they want to run loose....
So I don't have to go in the sluice.
It's such a big bother and fret.
Why get myself all wet
out hunting for gristle and suet?
My brothers-in-arms all do it,
but you know, it's a little bit risky."

"For you?"

                "Yeah I'm not so frisky,
and not so quick on the trigger.
If I were a little bit bigger...."

"You seem enormous to me."

"If you saw my family tree.
It's a little long for a rat.
I'm a kind of aristocrat.
Aw come on now, confess it,
and tell me you'd never guess it.
That's why I'm not so big.
I'm the last degenerate twig
from some big healthy lunk
who provided the tree with its trunk."

"Excuse me, but what's a tree?"

"This advanced illiteracy.
They're one of Nature's glories.
Don't you know the traditional stories?
These mice. I keep on praying
and hoping, but—as I was saying,
I just haven't got the brawn.
So it's lucky you mice are drawn
by that curious light above.
(God knows what it's the symbol of.)
But they seem to want to be taught.
So I teach 'em as much as I ought
(and sometimes a little bit more)
when I find 'em here on my shore,
so tender, so young, so devout.
Now what was I talking about?"

"You were talking about the drain.
Out there in the sky and the rain
in that luminous paradise
are there creatures like rats and mice?
I climbed ours once as a child
and heard loud noises. So wild,
such a terrible shaking and rumbling,
as if the gods were grumbling
and whizzing and whirring and whining
up there in their terrible shining
and banging and booming and clattering.
There was even something like chattering.
Strange voices seemed to be speaking.
But it wasn't at all like squeaking.
Was I hearing the language of spirits?
Was it Heaven? And had I gone near its
luminous vibrating center,
that I should have had courage to enter,
forsaking this world for good—
as a braver mouse doubtless would?
Was it Heaven? It sounded like Hell.
O Sir, perhaps you can tell."

"Yeah who ever stops to wonder
what kind of a world we're under
that loads up our world with its scraps?
They get made down here perhaps,
and all this filth is our own.
But what wise guy's ever shown,
if it's so, exactly where?
You can see a world up there.
Any ninny knows that.
You don't have to be a rat
to know that, but what I'd like to know,
do they know of us below?
Those creatures that live up there,
are they even the least bit aware
of what goes on below them?
You're a fellow who seems to know them.
Go figure that one out!"

His voice had come close to a shout.
What made it, I wondered, so loud?
Then, seeing me silent and cowed,
he took up a quieter tone:

"Yeah all these things are unknown.
some say there was once a time
without so much garbage and slime
when the gods looked down with more favor
and the world had a pleasanter flavor.
We have hints in our oldest traditions
of an earth under different conditions.
(Ain't it nice when I don't have to holler
and can talk like a dignified scholar.)
The ancient fables and stories
all tell of marvels and glories
we don't know a thing about
and leave, some think, little doubt
that we once had a place more open
than these caverns we now have to grope in.
But it could be just that we're dealing
with deeper perceptions and feeling:
a profounder imagination.
When they tell about live vegetation
and juicy and sunlit greens
in fragrant and spacious scenes
where the spirits of rodents can frolic,
it could be merely symbolic.
Such visions could all be suggested
by things that have always infested
existence right here by the sluice.
We have greens. They even have juice.
We note when we pick up a shred
that it smells like something dead,
and decide that it once was alive.
But the Ancients, I'm sure, could arrive
at the same elementary decisions,
and quickly expand them to visions
of plants and trees and flowers—
they had such miraculous powers.
So it's hard to escape the conclusion
that the World Beyond's an illusion;
and it follows that what have declined
are really our powers of mind."

"But if those greens were alive...
then where...?"

                       "But I wouldn't deprive
the other side of its views.
Our positions at times even fuse,
although they appear so polemic.
One mustn't be too academic.
Those deeply ambiguous fables
defy all our scholarly labels.
The amazing and thrilling perfection
of almost the whole collection,
their grandeur, their sweep, their regality,
God knows, has the force of reality.
And reality may be involved.
It's a problem that hasn't been solved....
It's as if some mystical tether
bound Spirit and Cosmos together.
Some fleshy and sacred splicing.
Could anything be more enticing?
(Don't answer that.) So it's clear
that the world surrounding us here
and we ourselves are decaying.
That's why I keep hoping and praying
my students will study the past.
We may not have long to last
in this place of labor and sorrow.
It may be all gone tomorrow.
You say that the gods are grumbling.
Must be: the Cosmos is crumbling.
Every day a stone works loose
and plummets right into the sluice.
Just figure it out: every day....
Why'd you move so far away?
Have you gotten frightened of papa?
You trying to be prim and propa?
(Forgive that atrocious rhyme,
but I can't get it right every time.
I'm only a rat after all,
and my brain is a little bit small.)
Aw come on. You're looking befuddled."

My brain was indeed rather muddled.
His talk was so rich in suggestions.
But so many unanswered questions.
And as he squeaked in the gloom
I imagined those greens all in bloom.
I could smell them and see them glisten.
I was almost too frightened to listen
and be drawn by their fatal allure
after ignorant years in the sewer.
I feared that the things I'd be shown
might snuff out all I had known
in my own particular past
if I learned about them too fast
and forgot to maintain my identity
as an independent entity.
What a mind! The way it could roam!
There'd been nothing like this at home
—except maybe Uncle Skinner
(whom mother called an old sinner)
who recited some marvelous fable
whenever he sat at our table.

"You must be afraid to come closer."

"O no...I mean...O no, Sir."
I'd almost begun to revere him,
so how could I mind sitting near him?
I swallowed my doubts and complied
and moved up close to his side.
He seemed to be mightily pleased.

"God knows how I love to be teased;
but this world ... this world's so muddy,
what else gives pleasure but study?
(Don't answer that, don't answer,
you wicked little entrancer.)
Only it—it—(study) recaptures
the Ancients' angelic raptures—
that deeply felt sense of communion,
that profound and mystical union,
without which who can endure
the rigors of life in a sewer?
And they can be endured—and enjoyed—
if one finds a way to avoid
the tiresome useless activities
that stifle one's inner proclivities:
the cut-throat getting and spending,
the train of evils attending:
the backbiting, plotting, conniving...
yeah look at 'em out there striving,
my glorious brothers-in-arms
and their sisters with all their charms...
I know. Old Nick's been a victim.
They thought they'd  try to evict him.
And now they call him a hermit.
However they choose to term it.
But strange little things get brewed
at the depths of my solitude
while they all go paddling around
(It's a wonder they haven't all drowned)
my brothers, uncles, and nephews
out bumping among the refuse.
Old Nick looks pretty inert.
Just poke him; you'll find he's alert.
He naps in his sleeper's den
and revolves things beyond their ken....
And then the mice who've a mind
to leave all that business behind,
imagining they can unravel
the mysteries of life by travel,
looking for God knows what,
mere phantoms as likely as not,
getting lost—O it's all so squalid.
If they'd look for something more solid....
I'm glad you're a mouse who differs
from that crowd of impatient sniffers
out seeking some unknown fragrance—
till they end up classed as vagrants.
The past to them? Dimmest obscurity.
Yet they'd find such a breath-taking purity
if they'd grope in its hidden sources
and sense its original forces
that open the gates of the spirit,
admitting fresh breezes that clear it
and give it miraculous powers
and visions of gardens and flowers
that joyously bloom and unroll
at the depths of a cultured soul.
Just imagine that glorious sight."

I gazed in ecstatic delight.

"So few get to open that door.
so many mice come to my shore.
If I could accommodate more,
I'd certainly do so gladly.
When they go, they go so sadly."

O how had he gotten so wise?
I gazed in his gray little eyes
and observed his whiskers and teeth
with the powerful jawbone beneath
and noted the hair on his paws
and his deft and expressive claws
with devotion, yes, real devotion.
He would show me the inner ocean.
He'd unfold by degrees the mystery
of all past and future history.

He'd lay bare the depths of myself.

Would he let me stay here on his shelf?
O God, how much I'd have rather
had him than my genuine father.
With him the assorted greens,
the spinach, the peas, and the beans,
all hinted at marvelous scenes
where peaceful spirits abide
in a world that was sunlit and wide.
Great vistas arose in my mind
of the past where the soul is enshrined
the soul of mousekind and his heart
in fables of consummate art
that the Ancients' inspired endeavor
had left us to cherish, forever.

How fine it would be to remain
beneath that celestial drain
and develop deep and commanding
powers of understanding,
and teach other mice the way
to that inner more luminous day.
How fine, to flirt with that thought
and to think how much I'd be taught.
(But I never once thought as I flirted
of my envelope lying deserted
in darkness down by the shore.)
I'd learn Nick's mystical lore.
I'd exert my utmost powers
and study for hours and hours.
He'd see that this mouse was no dunce.
I'd apply for enrollment at once.
I'd urge, I'd plead, I'd beg.

Then he put his paw on my leg.

And to think I was almost the pleader.
Forgive me, I blush, dear Reader,
to tell what he tried to do.
You'd be terribly shocked if you knew.
How foul, how shabby, how shoddy:
that rat had designs on my body.

"O Sir," I cried, "Unpaw me,
or you'll wish that you never saw me."

"Aw now..."

                    "Not a word!"

                                           "I was only..."

"I know..."

                    "Do you know how lonely..."

"But I..."

                "It can be for a rat..."

"Unpaw me!"

                        "Who likes to chat..."

"Now stop!"

                     "Who prefers to discuss..."

"This minute."

                          "Who won't make a fuss..."

"Let me go!"

                     "Who can speak in verse..."

"I'm leaving."

                      "Who likes to converse
with mice who are gifted and clever?"

"And clever?"

                        "Why sure. Why I've never...
if I'm wrong about it, correct me."

"Then Sir, you should try to respect me.
Is this what you do when you're chatting?"

"You refer to this harmless patting,
these innocent recreations,
this communion with deeper sensations
that spirit made flesh requires
to feed its celestial fires?
Our stifling customs forbid it,
but the innocent Ancients did it."

"Are you an Ancient? Tell me
and stop trying to overwhelm me
with all your heady discourses
on secret miraculous forces."

"Well I've only been talking all day
to keep you from going astray
and to tell you the surest way
to develop your body and mind
instead of wandering blind
through sluice after unlighted sluice
till you end with your neck in the noose
of—O all sorts of circumstances—
as you'll find when some she-mouse dances
possessively all around you,
the first she-mouse who's found you,
and you find yourself hunting for food
for an unwashed squeaking brood
of little mouse lassies and laddies
who weren't any fault of their daddy's:
he produced that crowd of mice
while fumbling for paradise."

"I know. You wanted to save me
because you had plans to deprave me...
or eat me! The way you switch
your meanings, it's hard to tell which."

"Yeah it's hard. What I mean is like this:
there's an ultimate cosmic bliss
for which you mice are all striving
and all sorts of ways of arriving
(some slow, some easy and quick—
but the quickest by way of old Nick)
at your ultimate destination:
release from the Curse of Creation.
But regardless what method you name,
the results in the end are the same.
Yet it's strange: many mice seem coy
about seizing this ultimate joy,
though they've looked for nothing else
for as long as they've worn their pelts.
They're choosy about their fashion
of fulfilling their consummate passion.
And they do try the darnedest stunts.
If you'd tried to run, just once....
Without doubt you're the craziest mouse....
You recall my one-time spouse
(God rest her chilly soul).
God knows what impossible goal
she wanted when she was alive....
Here's to you, boy; hope you arrive.
But you'll get there as well right here.
If you'd once understood how near...
just that's what I've hinted at mainly.
But maybe it's time to speak plainly....
But it makes me feel so sad to.
God knows how seldom I've had to.
I never met anyone stranger.
Have you any concept of danger?
Such a shy and innocent one.
If you'd just once tried to run...
but you sat there so fascinated.
It's strange. Things like this must be fated."

"You've told me I'd turn you sour.
I can see that I'm now in your power.
So tell me right now on the spot,
are you going to eat me or not?"

"You use such indelicate terms.
I'm normally nourished by worms
(soft bodiless tails that crawl
from crevices there in my wall).
When you chew them, you find that they're gritty.
(As an image, that's not at all pretty.
Forgive me.) They're all full of dirt.
So I sometimes find for dessert....
I do so admire you males:
the bodies you have on your tails.
There's nothing more shapely or finer;
and I praise the Almighty Designer
who dwells in the Heavens above
for these creatures I tend to and love."

"Is that love, do you say, to devour
the creatures you get in your power?
No wonder they turn you sour!
No wonder I kept at a distance.
You were menacing my existence!
Can't we find a thing we admire,
a thing that excites our desire,
without secretly trying to destroy it?
Can't we find a way to enjoy it
that allows it still to exist?
We can't? Is that the gist
of your long and elaborate greeting?
That love is nothing but eating?
How horrible! You're dooming
all life to vile consuming!
Then all your inspiring images
were nothing but plays and scrimmages
in a nasty repulsive game,
in an—O it's too horrid to name!
In a scholar so prim and fastidious—
it's too shocking, too sordid, too hideous!"

"You want to go? Well alright."

"All right!"

                   "Yeah old Nick doesn't bite,
unless someone wants to be bitten."

"But..."

             "I'm not that foolishly smitten."

"But..."

            "I'm not an outrageous sinner.
There's lots who...I've plenty for dinner...
that is, counting the worms."

                             "But Sir, you..."

"You can go. Old Nick won't deter you."

"But Sir, I..."

                     "Don't gaze so quizzically.
It almost affects me physically.
If you're going, you'd...but you grieve me
by wanting so quickly to leave me,
miscast in my strange occupation."

"Your students..."

                           "They're all on vacation."

"They'll be back?"

                           "O yeah, there's plenty.
Some months fifteen or twenty.
I can't always tell 'em apart;
but I love 'em with all my heart.
And yet, for all their applause,
it's depressing. They slip through my paws.
The best ones. They lack the maturity
to grasp that ultimate purity....
If you're going, boy, better get going.
The sluice is right there, still flowing.
Jump in quick and get it about you
before it flows on without you."

"I'll find my envelope."

"Your what? It's alive, I hope."

"She's here in the near vicinity."

"Good Heavens, he's lost his virginity.
He's got a fe-...he's eloped
and got himself enveloped.
I knew there was something queer....
You just get her right out of here!
The way he soaked up my palaver....
Get her out! Right away! I won't have her!
I'll attack, I'll evict, I'll impeach her.
I'm a well-known respectable teacher."

"But she's not..."

                         "I don't care."

                            "She's my vessel..."

"What names! God knows what a mess'll
result from a business like this.
Where'd you leave this coy little miss?
You know, she'll soon make you rue her
and drawn yourself in the sewer.
She'll claim you attempted to rape her."

"But it's made of wax-coated paper."

"Made of....Good Heavens. But how...?
I'm sure I've heard everything now.
The creature's constructed a manikin
that he does something vile and satanic in."

"It's a ship, a vessel, a boat,
my means of staying afloat;
and the reason I call it a she
is—well—she's been good to me."

"That's a pretty perverted reason."

"It comes open. I slide my knees in..."

"Now stop this, boy. It's atrocious.
It's making me downright ferocious....
A boat?...I've heard of such things.
In one old tale someone sings....
But I hear a worm in the wall.
They've a queer little plaintive call.
I've never known worms to refuse me.
Dear Sir, I hope you'll excuse me.
You're leaving, right now I assume?"

And he left me alone in the gloom.
I walked slowly down to the shore
and found her there as before
(my craft, my secret desire)
except that now she was drier,
and prepared again to embark
out into that turbulent dark.
I grasped a corner and brought her
down to the viscous water
and got in. It was easily done.

But ah, what of daylight and sun?
Would I find them out there before me
where all seemed dark and stormy?
And after what wounds, what scars?...
And what of the moon and the stars?

PART TWO
THE MARRIAGE OF A MOUSE
BOOK III

O aid me, ye Muses of Story,
in this, my passage to glory,
which proves that though doomed to a sewer
mousekind shall not only endure
but shall, said Faulkner, prevail,
and tells how, helped by his tail,
one mouse of great valor braves
those Hell-dark, foul-smelling waves
and at last in his envelope steers
up among the Heavenly Spheres.

O aid me,
ye Sisters, evade me
not,
for now with my plot
getting thicker
and with my maturing age
more smutty on every page,
this story's got
to move quicker.

Fly in from your Ocean Isles
out in clear ethereal blue;
revive me with giggles and smiles,
and help me with rhyming too;
protect me from errors
and blunders
as I sail through these terrors
and wonders,
and preserve my powers undiminished
until this moustrosity's finished.

Say first, for your Heavenly View
dives deep into sluice and slue,
say first, O Heavenly Viewer,
did the mouse you see in that sewer
leave that rat's most foul and unhallowed
retreat without being followed?
And did (lacking sail and mast)
that rodent reach daylight at last?
(O tell me, good Muses, O tell me!
Or did those waves overwhelm me?)

"Nick's light slid slowly aft
and away from the trim little craft,
towered high, then faded away
into depths that swallowed all day,
but the rat remained in his hole;
and the mouse, sore troubled of soul,
squeaked bravely aloud, to forget
his fear, his shame—his regret.

"Then out in the cataract's roar,
uncomfortably close to the shore
as he sculled out among great rocks,
a can banged into a box;
he heard the crash and boom
reverberate deep in the gloom
and cried, 'O dripping dungeon,
that again I must rise and plunge in
and travel through, dizzy and blind!...'

"But escape lay in keeping confined:
confined to his white paper pocket
that rolled like an eye in a socket
still keeping its wakeful stare,
with the mouse as its iris of hair:
an eye: an island of seeing
in the fleshy tumult of Being
that scarcely could stay in its place
in the folds of that Watery Face
and that wearied yet dared never doze,
lest those great muddy eyelids close."

(If I let those waves even blink me,
I knew they would swamp and sink me.)

That sluice. How I longed to slip by it
in moss-hung studious quiet,
removed from its whirl of sensation
in untouched contemplation.
Was that noisy chaotic commotion
the only way to the ocean?
That darkness? I pictured the tunnel's
great waves coming, over the gunnels:
O I'd go where their turbulence led me;
but the me would soon be a dead me.

But suppose I clung to the wall,
moved more slowly....

                              I wouldn't at all.
I'd just sit there, going to rot in
the darkness, forsaken, forgotten,
till I got so warped and constricted,
I acted as queerly as Nick did.

I pictured that humdrum solidity...
then again the water's fluidity
and reckless drunken upheavals:
was I doomed to one of these evils?
Had logic that seemed unimpeachable
proved oceans forever unreachable?

Or was there a way in between...
where the water was swift, yet serene,
where force had neutralized force
in a narrow but steerable course
that led through this world of tensions
out into other dimensions?
There seemed to be something....Before,
when I steered to Nick's dim shore,
when, cruelly tumbled and tossed,
my life had seemed hopelessly lost
and I looked death right in the face...
and as if by some mystical grace,
Nick's light, Nick's beckoning spark,
came flickering out of the dark
and began then hugely to loom
like a ghost from the depths of a tomb,
and I thought I might really be drowned
and heard in the dark all around
what seemed like a Heavenly psalm
and the waters...the waters grew calm!
Light flashed in my understanding.
Calm as I came near the landing!
Was that the cataract's riddle?
Between its shore and its middle
did a quietly burbling way
lead out to the light of day—
through galleries, tunnels, and caves
like a thread to the sunlit waves—
round pillar and post and plinth
out of that labyrinth?
I'd have only to feel out and mark
its....

       How could I when all had gone dark?
O sly metaphorical thread,
how could I see where you led?
By the second it kept getting darker,
and there wasn't a sign of a marker.
I despaired. I let out a squeak—
for again my future looked bleak,
looked empty, O blacker than black.

Then from nowhere—a squeak came back,
as if I'd been somehow admonished.
I looked around me astonished.
All silent. I squeaked once more,
and back from that empty shore
through the slowly deepening shade,
altered and slightly delayed,
again the echo returned;
and in that delay I discerned
a distance...the distance my call
had been from the echoing wall!
In the dark—the accurate range!
I could sense it—wasn't it strange?
One of Nature's fathomless laws.
I gazed down at the tunnel's dark jaws....
Let others let sewers gobble 'em.
This mouse had solved his problem.
I would find the sea I was seeking
by the sound of my musical squeaking.

O my boat had a tail to steer it,
   enskiffed
   adrift
   on the tide;
but blundering flesh needed Spirit:
squeak on, melodious guide!

Envelope mated with tail;
   and whither
   they slither
   along,
whither they snugly sail,
the fruit of their mating's a song.

Thus Yin once mated with Yang
   (As told
   by the old
   Chinese),
and the whole world thenceward sprang
in a thunderous Cosmic Sneeze.

There deep in the gurgling chasm
   of Yin
   (For within
   was Yang)
there stirred in a mighty spasm
the world, like a song that they sang.

This world. This Valley of Death
alive with my vibrating breath.

O masonried tube of doom,
can a mouse escape you
by squeaking tunes in your gloom?
By learning to shape you
to meaning, form, and relation?
O these are the joys of creation!

Squeak on, ye squeaks, O squeak!
At last I'd learned to rejoice
in the sound of my own small voice.
A voice...was it one voice only?
How lonely
that sounded, how bleak.
For where would my singing belong?
Would my only fruit be a song?
Had I in my rage to exist
turned into a solipsist—
uprooted, banished, exiled?

I'd been such a lonely child.
I'd always avoided my neighbors'
laughter, joking, and labors.
I'd creep up into our drain
and squeak some soulful refrain
whose haunting and sad repetition
seemed to speak of our mortal condition.
O loneliness—how it condenses,
refracts, through the lens of senses
unsmudged by the world's vulgarity,
all life to its ultimate clarity.

Then what could I feel? I could feel
my hind-paws wedged in the keel,
my scalp turning under the flap,
one forepaw down in my lap,
the other paw poised on the rail,
and deep in the stern my tail
that faithfully steered and sculled....

Yet my senses seemed strangely dulled.
How faded things seemed to have grown.
Here I was peaceful, alone,
all calm, the boat not leaking...
O to have heard someone squeaking!
Anyone. Mouse or....What was it?
When the mind's mirror clouds, what does it?
Alone. Was it simply my fright
as I drifted away from the light
that had old Nick as its keeper?
Or was it something deeper?

And now that light had vanished
to me, whom Nick had banished....
If it hadn't been for my scruples,
I might have been one of his pupils,
one of his chosen anointed.
Was that it?...Disappointed?
Goodness, I wondered, of what?
Had I wanted to stay there or not?
Stay there and be deflowered
and little by little devoured.
If I'd tried to root there and settle,
he'd have plucked me, petal by petal,
and cast me away, condemned,
when at last I was empty-stemmed,
when at last (to be less high-flown)
I was nothing but gristle and bone...
and then he'd have gnawed off the gristle
and picked me as clean as a whistle.

I pictured the sight and shivered.
Thank God that I'd been delivered,
that I'd boldly taken my chances
and countered his deadly advances
with such a despairing aplomb
that he'd turned from me, overcome,
and let me depart as I pleased.

If I'd tried to run, he'd have seized
me at once, and excited from chasing me,
done things he couldn't do facing me.
Magnificent moral precocity
prevented that dreadful atrocity.
Moral courage had made me victorious.
Could anything be more glorious?

And yet—that I'd shown such bravery
outfacing his noxious knavery,
that Nick's educational shelf
had revealed such a force in myself—
was that enough to explain
why maybe I'd wished to remain?
O who can fathom my actions
and the nature of Nick's attractions?
O Gide, O Freud, O Proust!
Was I itching to be seduced?

Did I long for something so awful?

I wept, shedding tears by the pawful.
They trickled down over my coat;
they dripped in the bilge of the boat;
but the verdict seemed inescapable:
I wished that I'd proved more rapable.

But what did that mean—seduction?
Did it always lead to destruction?
It meant that he'd found something sweet in me.
What made me think held have eaten me?
Was it he or I who was treating
love as a lust, like eating,
as something that overpowers
and, perhaps out of fear, devours?
Was he really the savage aggressor
or only a kindly professor?

Some students ran, and he followed them,
caught them—and probably swallowed them...
dull fellows who, though they'd boated
that far, weren't really devoted
and got destroyed by his system
when they tried to flee or resist him.
Did he lecture them, bore them, induce
them to flee, so he'd have an excuse
to attack them?...Then all his discourses
on secret miraculous forces
were only a trap that he'd baited....

But I'd sat fascinated,
till at last, completely nonplussed
by my fervor, brilliance, trust,
Nick opened his inner sanctum.
I should have been grateful and thanked him
instead of recoiling in fright.

In that dim and ghostly light,
his proposal had shocked and alarmed me,
but really—would it have harmed me?
Would it have damaged my health?
To take one's pleasure by stealth
regardless of stuffy morality
can steady the whole personality.
Here I wept tears by the sluiceful.
The experience might have been useful,
might have affected me tonically....

O why did I act so moronically?

And he let me go so easily....
I felt so small, so measly....
Dear old Nick, I just couldn't cotton
to him....I sensed he was rotten.
Yet he seemed so alive, so flourishing.
Like spinach: rotten but nourishing.

He was like the food I'd rejected
at home. "He's afraid it's infected."
My brother's words when he taunted me
came back to me now and haunted me:
"Afraid!"...It was rancid and soured!
Afraid: me, a finicky coward
who shrunk from the world around me....
My God, but it just about drowned me!
This world with those greens and Old Nick in it—
Did I think I could only get sick in it?
Did I think this sewer would poison me
if I let it stir any joys in me?

This sewer—was it really a sewer?
Or did it have an allure
that I, in a quest for the pure
that made this world seem rotten,
had never known—or forgotten?
As a sewer I've seen and presented it—
but what if I've only invented it?
Invented it out of my fears
and watered it now with my tears?
O what if this gurgling night
that holds no joy, no delight,
this bottomless pestilent hole,
is an image of my own soul?

O theory, proposal, rebuttal.
O that rat. He'd made me too subtle.

He'd made it all so confusing.
And here I was, aimlessly cruising
—where? Over waves. Did they flow where
I hoped? No, no, they went nowhere—
ever sinking away as I followed
until at last they were swallowed
in ultimate darkness below
with me borne along in the flow
through these terrors that lurked in between.

That ocean: what did it mean?
All dark. No color, no pigment,
affirmed it more than the figment
of one mouse's sickened mentality
losing its grip on reality.
Nothing. Vacuity. Suction,
sucking me down to destruction.
And what was this nil, this void,
by which I was being destroyed,
this bright, transcendental goal?
The void was in my own soul,
an idle and empty longing
in one who had failed in belonging
in sewer-life where he was born.

O my feelings—how they were torn.

So I sailed, feeling every variety
of doubt, despair, anxiety,
while muffled reverberations
trembled the world's foundations,
and sometimes a starry light
would drift above through the night
as I sensed my path by my squeaks—
was it hours, days—was it weeks?—
with nothing on which to brood
but my empty solitude
and nothing to do but eat—
yes I ate—the tainted meat,
the spinach, the peas, and the beans,
the black, dead-smelling, greens
that Nick couldn't see as a proof
of a world up above our roof—
a sunlit, illusory world
where no stale waters swirled
and the odors were fresh and sweet.
Yes I ate. I had to eat.
It became a lustful compulsion
that snuffed out all the revulsion
I'd felt when I had been younger.
I'd never known such hunger,
such emptiness, such craving,
such a pitiless, helpless, depraving
crying inside me....

                             Strange:
was my body beginning to change?

I'd land on the shore, try to sleep.
When I could, it was seldom deep
and I dreamed....I'd a dream of my sister
in which I fondled and kissed her
and...Reader, I can't go on.
It's a well-known phenomenon:
sleep's version of rainy weather.
Then I thought of our childhood together—
how I'd realized what made her a daughter
one evening late, when I caught her...
O Reader, spare me the scene.
I'm sure you can guess what I mean.
Then how troubled, how strangely distressed
I'd been when she'd stroll through the nest
and I'd think: That creature's a "her"—
and with nothing on but her fur.
How oddly her body swung,
and her belly: the way it hung:
such elegance, such design,
yet somehow so different from mine.
And yet, right along with me, she's
a member of our own species
and even of our own family,
I'd think—absurdly and hamily:
Imagine being perplexed
by a mouse just differently sexed.

Or then again back in the boat
I'd think, as I'd leisurely float:
But what's inside of a female?
Take mother....

                       An itch in my tail
distracted me. Itches, itches,
I fumed. Am I hexed by witches,
drab Mollys with dirty digits
who give me these hungers and fidgets?
am I sick? Am I dying of cancer?
Then I suddenly realized the answer:

Be it fiancee, mistress, or spouse,
I needed a female mouse.

Then I'd land again and camp
alone in the starless damp:
O a female with whom I could bunnel
by the shore of the murmuring tunnel.
Some Circe, some Pocahontas....
Did they need us, those creatures, or want us
as we wanted them, I wondered?
But the cataract only thundered....

Then it spoke to me: "That's what you miss
by wandering off like this,
you hairy pioneer, you.
Squeak, squeak! Who's here to hear you?
Me? Then expound your notion
that I flow out to an ocean.
Me? I'm only a phantasm.
Many a lunatic has 'em."
—And the voice vanished into the night.

O for a ray of light!
For a gleam, a glimmer, a spark!

But I woke once again in the dark.
Or was I still half sleeping?
I heard a sound....It was weeping.
It couldn't...the sound a mouse makes.
(The squeaking quivers and shakes.)
More spirits, I thought. This coast's
infested with gibbering ghosts....

"Can't they ever leave me alone?"

I crouched there, still as a stone.

"Can't they once just let me be?
Can't a girl mouse ever be free?
They'll drive me out of my mind
with the way they keep me confined
in that nest—that hole in the wall.
And they never clean it at all.
Heaped up with trash and litter.
And she just sits. I could hit her.
And he's as much to be blamed.
It makes me feel so ashamed.
Can't they see I've got to get out?
'It won't do no good to pout,
young lady.' It won't...O fooey
on them. They're warped. They're screwy.
Won't let me swim or run
or dance. It's wrong to have fun,
it's wrong if I go for a walk,
I suppose, and stop to talk
even, with young male mice.
It's not supposed to be nice
unless he offers his tail.
As if I was up for sale—
or tails on a male were diseased."

Here, for some reason, I sneezed.
A stupid ridiculous lapse.
The damp—or a draft perhaps...
or the light. That light outlining
her figure. From where was it shining?

Her voice—it was toneless, dreamy—
stopped. She'd turn. She'd see me.
She'd see that a mouse was listening.

She turned, her front teeth glistening,
both of them, there in the glow,
and said very calmly,

                              "Hello."

How enchantingly simple it sounded.
I stared. You'd think me astounded
to hear that a mouse could speak;
and I suddenly felt so weak:
I could feel my blood as it pumped
through my body, sitting there humped
in a ball (to look like a stone).

"You're here...completely alone?"

She sat there without a word.
I went on, feeling slightly absurd:
"Alone? And you've...been crying?
I've...I didn't mean to be spying."

"It's not....O they just make me mad,
that's all."

               "Who?"

                             "Them."

                            "That's bad."

"It's not that I'm flitty or gaddy."

"I can see that."

                         "But Mummy and Daddy....
O you won't understand."

                              "I can try."

She sniffled, heaved a sigh,
and mechanically scratched her ear.
I sat down beside her, as near
as I dared.

                "If you told me about it,"
(I felt for her paw) "no doubt it
would help....You should try....Just a little...."

"...I...can't...."

                     "O come now. It'll
surprise you, I think, how good
you'll feel....If you once understood
how the forces you've long been repressing
are freed by boldly confessing...."

She seemed to be lost in a trance.
Good God, I thought, what a chance.
A genuine female mouse.
I observed her closely. A louse
crept out on a breast's little hummock,
jumped down to her lower stomach,
and vanished under her hair.
O the life that went on in there....

"You should try. When we say what we're feeling,
it's often strangely revealing...."

Then how to begin? A massive
assault on a creature so passive
might really succeed. O it had to!
But it made me feel like a cad to.
A devil. A gray little Lucifer.
Such calculating use of her:
to lay my trap, put the bait in—
a four-pawed, whiskery Satan,
whose brain, though it looked rather meager,
was that of a monstrous intriguer,
a ruthless Machiavelli.
I gazed at her downy belly....

"Try now. The things that we're seeking
come clear often, merely by speaking...."

Something cried in me, O, something needed
those touching things that a she did!

"If you can't unload your trouble,
you know, it burdens you double."

I squeezed her paw. Not a word
would she utter. Heavens, I'd heard
her before: she'd wept out a bale of it—
though I couldn't make head nor tail of it.
Was she hiding some secret shame?
Goody.

           "Perhaps you've a name,"
I said, "Mice do, I believe."

"My name...it's Genevieve."

"And the nickname?"

                             "I haven't any.
Well...mostly they call me Jenny....
There now, I've told you a little."

Good Lord, she was noncommittal.
I'd asked her name with design,
as a hint she should ask me for mine,
for, Reader, isn't it shameless
that after two books I'm nameless?
But she sat there in silence, ignoring me.
Did it strike her she might be boring me,
the nasty little nonentity?

"You haven't asked my identity,"
I said to her finally, furious
that mice can be so incurious.

"I s'pose you're one of the villagers
or...one of those wandering pillagers."
I could see in the growing light
her eyes open wide in fright.

"Pillagers? No. But I wander...."
Should I tell? Would my thoughts be beyond her?
Good Heavens, I had to be bolder.
What harm could it do if I told her?
I might sound like a dashing fellow—
a sort of pint-sized Othello
whose tale, in a warlike idiom,
could move his lady to pity him
and win her with one bold stroke.
I trembled, but tried as I spoke
not to show any signs of emotion.

"I've set out in search of the ocean—
a curious sort of an antic."

"It sounds...well...sort of romantic."

"It does? O yes...quite frightening—
the thunder sometimes—and the lightning—
and the foaming waves all in motion....
You mean you've heard of the ocean?"

"Well...."

             "Of the bounding main
washed clean with the Heavenly rain—
and moonshine—and luminous mists?...
You know, some mice doubt it exists."

"They do?"

                 "But nobody knows
where all our greenery grows—
just imagine: the greens that we eat—
and think of the rotten meat:
mustn't it once have been fresh,
maybe once even living flesh?"

She didn't reply. Yet she seemed
so absorbed....Could it be that she'd dreamed
the same sort of things as I?

"Just imagine: the sunlight, the sky,
the sea gulls that sit on the billows
all wispy and fluffy like pillows,
the birds that sing in the willows
by the side of the ocean's foaming,
the stars that come out in the gloaming
along with the fragrant moon
who plays them a sweet little tune:
and then the sun also rises
and fills the world with surprises,
and birds and buds go atwitter
in its warm voluptuous glitter:
and everything's blue and gold...."
I mentioned the tales of old,
then spoke of my passionate hope
to sail in an envelope
out there to the sea and the greenery
and bask in that magical scenery
till, cleansed of the poisons of time,
I turned into something sublime.

I described the envelope
and stealthily started to grope
in the tufts of her soft gray hair—
down, down, to her flesh, all bare
and moist and...perceptibly gritty....
My God, was she even pretty?

No, and perhaps rather stupid.
But O, sweet Eros and Cupid,
she was someone I couldn't despise.
I gazed at her filmy eyes
that seemed to be fixed in the distance
and heedless of my existence:
one could hardly say that they glistened;
but—O, God bless her!—she listened.
My family had never done that—
nor would Nick, that unnatural rat.
But now, though I raved, though I ranted,
Genevieve listened enchanted—
and seemed to wax in beauty—
my pillage, my plunder, my booty!
My paw was deep in her hair....
O God, I thought, did I dare?
I paused in deep indecision....

Then I saw her as though in a vision:
A Phantom of Delight
that gleamed in the smelly night,
a Lovely Apparition
sent to relieve my condition.
I gazed and sank to my knees—
ah what if she did have fleas,
my Solitary Weeper;
for now I was ready to leap her,
ready to jump, to pounce,
driven wild by the bubbling ounce
of blood right under my fur....

Was it coolable only by her?
I looked at those two large teeth....

Then I touched on a softness—beneath—
more soft than I'd ever known;
and slowly, hard as a bone,
like a devil, a quivering devil,
conjured up by her lovely dishevel
so moist, so fluted and curled
—O an Eden, a holy new world—
my devil raised up in a swell
of lust for her hot little Hell,
and my brain began dizzily reeling
with pulse after pulse; and feeling
pang after amorous pang,
ecstatically thus I sang:

"Hark, Hark!
the twitter of day!
O Jenny, let's stay
in the dark
and fritter and play.
O come, Genevieve,
it's time to play Adam and Eve."

But Genevieve, seeming to fret,
answered, and made a duet:

"Let it twitter
and glitter
and glow.
but O
stay away.
I know,
we'll fritter
and play,
and then I'll come down with a litter."

"O Jenny,
don't let that bother you any.
Though blinded by your attraction,
I'll still take preventive action,
and the day....

"Keep away."

"But Jenny,
I'm feeling so yenny.
I could melt
at the touch of your pelt.
And Jenny—
there may very well be many,
but you're the only.
And no more confused and lonely,
I trouble the Heavens with thanks
for your haunches, your paws, your flanks,
and with my bootless cries
for your chubby and twitching thighs...."

Thus, getting lewder and lewder,
in magnificent measure I wooed her;
and heaping up statement on statement,
with neither pause nor abatement—
O Reader, I lied infernally.

"You say that you'll love me eternally?"

O lies—how far would they carry me?

"Would you love me enough to marry me?"

Good Heavens, she found me convincing.
"Why of course!" I answered—wincing.

"You'll become my faithful spouse
and take me out of that house
and care for and feed all my litters?"

O God, but she gave me the jitters.

"And offer your tail as a pledge?"

At this, I began to hedge.
From that latest interrogation
I couldn't tell what operation
she had in mind to administer,
but it sounded downright sinister.
I said no one could tell the uses
my tail might have in the sluices
through which we would have to wander.

She was silent and seemed to ponder.

O the anguish, the awful suspense.
It made me so nervous, so tense,
to wait there in silence...to wait
and think how she held my fate
in her paws....O the time she was taking....
Did she think how my knees were aching,
all four of them, there as I knelt
and nuzzled about in her pelt?
My jenny...how sweetly she smelt
to me, her passionate wooer,
of warmth...of life...of the sewer:
of the spinach, the peas, and the beans,
and the other assorted greens
and potato and orange peels—
of the things that one eats for meals....

Would I live someday to regret her?
Ah, wouldn't it really be better
to shun this contamination,
to live in a pure sublimation
longing for sunlit infinity,
to nuzzle and snuggle and grope
in a paper envelope
instead of this mouse's virginity?
How low it seemed, how petty,
to nuzzle a pelt so sweaty:
a false, hypocritical pose,
with hairs getting stuck in your nose....
No, no, I angrily thought,
I wasn't the mouse to be caught
so foully, shabbily, shoddily....

Then Genevieve yielded, bodily.

She'd made up her mind at last.
I crouched there a moment, aghast,
while she made the appropriate movements.
They were awkward. They needed improvements.
She seemed so glumly resigned....

Good Heavens, she'd made up her mind!
The fortress was yielding at last....
Did it have to happen so fast?
It was happening, O, and to me!
What triumph, what joy, what glee!
Her prostrate hairy form
waiting there soft and warm,
the object of all my yearning....
I felt faint—my stomach was turning.
My God, it was all so easy.
I felt so nervous, so queasy—
and yet so gay, so lyrical,
for I thought I'd accomplished a miracle.

Thus love found its consummation.
Anxiety, anger, elation...
but at last: solution sweet
in a tangle of eight little feet.

O love. O dark penetration
to the innermost depths of creation.
O swooping, looping flight
down the damp vale of the night.
O fruit—when the time is propitious—
we peck at and find so delicious.
O twining and twisting of tails.
O delights. O piquant details...
details that are barely hintable
in a poem designed to be printable.
Beware, beware, O Priapus,
or else the censor will stop us.
Beware. He's looking for vice
and suppresses it even in nice.

O secret and mystical act
of love...as a matter of fact,
it was all so confusing and new,
I scarcely knew what to do,
and our awkward fumbling connection
fell sadly short of perfection.

O Nick, in all that you versed me,
could it be that you'd secretly cursed me?
It was over before I knew it.
Sad subject.  I shouldn't pursue it.
With my feelings so frayed and tattered,
I—how shall I put it?—splattered.
Priapus! Thy hoe must harden
before it can furrow that garden.

But in spite of that mis-fired funk,
I was pleased. At last I had sunk
deep down in Life: depravity's
gloomy and resonant cavities.
Wild derangement of senses.
Life where all truth commences.
Ineluctable dissolution
in rivers of joyous pollution.
I'd been so priggish and proper.
My Jenny...I'd proved I could hop her,
proved that with bold impunity
I could seize on an opportunity
and hold it fast in my grip.
Ye Heavens! How gaily I'd skip
through this universe, hoppity-hippity,
a master of...serendipity.

Genevieve stirred beside me.
With bulging eyes she eyed me,
vaguely, rhythmically blinking.
And what was the poor thing thinking?
God knew. Did my whiskery Venus
think something had started between us?
It was only a passing affair,
of course. Mere lust. Soft hair.
O the pelts, the fur, the wool of them.
Sweet females. The world was full of them,
cluttered, infested....

                                Or was it?
Perhaps only Genevieve does it.
Or maybe a girl who's a cinch'll
always be dumb and provincial
like her....Pretty soon I'd desert her—
desert....O God, would it hurt her
cruelly? I clenched my jaw
and gripped my tail with a paw.
I'd have to be cruel and treacherous.
Why not? Can't a mouse be lecherous,
wander, make conquests, ravage
at will—a noble savage,
a fickle and flitting deceiver?
So pretty soon I'd leave her—
return to the dark without her,
the dark, where I'd been such a doubter
of things, such a prey to despair....
Was it only a passing affair?
If I only could love her as she did me....
Poor thing, how deeply she needed me!

Why not take her, then, down through the sewer
a ways? And then when I knew her
better—we'd work things out.
When she learned what the world was about,
she'd be grateful for all that I taught her.
And we'd have such fun by the water.
Whatever she was, she'd be fine
as a casual concubine,
my companion in lust: we'd renew it
soon. We'd learn how to do it.
Practice. I had to get her
to open, respond to me better.
We needed the stimulation
of friendship—appreciation.
Would she help me achieve such a linking?
I wished she'd stop that blinking.
She looked so damnably dreamy
and vague. Did she even see me?
Poor thing, so much had begun
for her....

                 God, what had I done?
She looked so stunned, so remorseful.
She might hate me for being so forceful,
me—an anonymous stranger.
Would the thought of it madden, derange her,
poor mouse there, blinking with shame?

"And you don't even know my name....
I...I hope you don't detest me....
Never once have you even addressed me!...
Now you mustn't be shy with me, must you?"

"That's all right, honey, I trust you."

Good grief. I'd loved; I'd lusted.
Did I have to be told I was trusted?

"Well I s'pose I should know what they call you."

There are things, Reader, sometimes that gall you,
just gall you. She should? Now should she.
She couldn't want to know, could she?
The way she kept putting such cramps in
my tenderest feelings....

                                     "Samson,"
I muttered, "I'm named as I am
after father, whose name was Sam."

No doubt that's a wild etymology.
Forgive me. I'm poor at philology.
The secrets a name often hides—
let's keep them hidden....Besides,
couldn't someone accuse me of libel
for filching my name from the Bible—
incensed that a pip-squeaking roamer
should carry that high-sounding nomer?

Then would Genevieve cut off my hair?

I shuddered. She wouldn't dare.
My Genevieve? Someone you'd style a
ruthless, scheming Delilah?
Could a female so yielding and meek
who could barely be gotten to squeak
be inwardly hard as nails?

"Look, Jenny, there: our tails
are twining."

                    So timid and pensive,
so strangely on the defensive?
A female of Genevieve's type'll
become a faithful disciple,
I thought—a friend, a pal,
but hardly a femme fatale.

"Ah huh. Your tail looks a lot thicker..."

Well good. She was answering quicker.
Progress at last.

                         "...and stronger...."

Most likely it was.

                            "How much longer
d'you think you'll want it, honey?"

What a weird attempt to be funny.
"I should hope it's long enough now."

She blinked and knitted her brow.

The way you could mold and twist her,
it seemed—not a bit like my sister,
who was more the aggressive kind
and always knew her own mind.
But Jenny: with her I could cope.

So we'd travel. My envelope
was no palace. Would it contain
us both? Thoughts swam in my brain—
a school of them, sloshing, a bevy:
her length, her girth—was she heavy?
God no. She was light as a feather....

"Let's sail to the ocean together,
my dearest."

                    "You mean..."

                                           I waited.
I hoped she'd go on. How I hated
those silences....

                          "We..."

                                       "In my craft!
you forward, I sitting aft."

"But..."

            "My tail has to stick in the stern.
I can teach you."

                          "D'you think I could learn?"

"Of course. And we'll sail to the sea.
I'll steer—and I'll sing."

                                    And she—?
What could she do?...How was her vision?

"You can warn of approaching collision."

"You mean there'll be things that we'll hit?
O honey!"

                     I'd just let her sit.
That was best. "I know: as we float
downstream, you can reach from the boat
down into the water and fish us
out things to eat—delicious
tidbits, juicy and clammy,
orange peels, squash maybe..."

                                                "Sammy...
What'll we do in the ocean?"

She was so incredibly gauche in
so many ways. The stewer:
did she think what she'd do in a sewer?
Thank God that at least she detested
her family and where they nested
(that "hole in the wall" by the sluice)—
or I'd never have pried her loose.

She blinked. "Do you want us to roam
right away? We could visit my home...
do you think we could...for a while?"

"Your home! But you said...."

                                             The bile,
souring, rose in me, welled.

"But darling, I thought you'd rebelled....
You said...before...you were crying...."

"I thought you said you weren't spying."

"I wasn't but...please don't whimper."
 I kept feeling limper and limper.

"Can't somebody talk in private?"

"But darling, once we arrive, it
might not be easy to leave.
Just think of it, think, Genevieve!
And darling, we said we'd wander—
remember?"

                   "You mean...out yonder?"

"That's right."

                   "But you said it was frightening
Thunder and storms and lightning."

To think I'd made that remark
to impress her.

                       "And everything's dark
down there...and full of strangers...
and rats and...terrible dangers."

"That's necessary sensation
for spiritual transformation,
darling; it gets you enlightened
so the ocean won't make you frightened."

"O honey, if you demand it....
But I wish I could understand it."

We got up together and climbed,
over boulders, green and slimed,
to my boat, drawn up by the water.
I launched it and briefly taught her
my methods of enveloping:
how one begins by groping
deep down in its yielding folds
with the tail, then the paws, and holds
the body stiff and upright
till it slides in snug and tight.

"Stiff? You're sure that's right?"

"Of course, dear, stiff and erect.
It...it gives you a pleasing effect."

"It all sounds so complicated."

"Not really. Once she's dilated....
It's a method you have to intuit."

"Are you sure that a female can do it?"

(What a thought!) She climbed from the shelf
we'd sat on, wedged herself,
as I told her, well up forward—
then glanced apprehensively shoreward.
I watched; then I slipped in too
and, with Genevieve blocking my view,
shoved off.

                  She let out a squeak.
"You're sure we won't spring a leak?
I know you've good intentions...
but you know, these funny inventions...
I hope you know what you're doing."

Would the creature never stop stewing?
She picks just this crucial juncture,
I thought, this time that'll test
if we'll get to the Isles of the Blessed—
she picks just this moment to puncture
my faith, my originality,
with her nagging sense of fatality.

My tail was in place in the stern.
But I had to wiggle to turn
with it—turn to avoid the debris
up ahead—even wiggle to see.
But Genevieve, sitting up front,
was touching my groin with her c---
(No, no, I can't—that's flat—
I can't make a rhyme out of that—
those censors, you know—I'll be stopped,
and the Tale of the Mouse'll be chopped).
Jenny's tail (twitching about)
was sticking up under my snout.
When I even started to wiggle,
she would too and sigh and giggle.

"O honey. You keep going faster.
Be careful. We'll have a disaster."

I knew if I couldn't see round her,
my craft and my work would flounder
or tear to shreds on a rock.
if she'd only get off my c---
(another unprintable word).
As it was, that thing of her'd
—that thing she has where she sits—
it was driving me out of my wits.
My God, I thought, the wench'll
sap all my male potential—
which might be the source of the talents
I have, that keep us in balance.

Thus, dizzily down the tunnel
we swept at a perilous rate,
submerged almost to the gunnel
with Genevieve's added weight:
sweet Heaven! I thought, I'm toting
a female, and still I'm floating.
Chaotically, hugger-mugger,
maybe I'll actually lug her
right out to the open sea.
And I squeaked with ecstasy—
squeaked—and became aware
of something damp in the hair
on my haunches. The vessel veered;
I glanced at the gunnel—then peered
aghast: through a place where the paper
dipped in a graceful taper
—like a monster that lapped and nibbled—
sluice water slopped and dribbled,
then poured with increasing rapidity.
Jenny just sat—what stupidity!
I bailed in fury—O blast her!—
but it kept pouring faster and faster.
Then she noticed—and cried in a fret
that her bottom was getting all wet,
then—something which probably stunned her—
the boat with us both went under.

Our two heads bobbed in the river.
Was that all the ride I could give her?
All lost. I hardly cared.
For a moment, I think I despaired.
But no: it scarcely distressed me,
such lassitude possessed me.
A female. She'd sunk my craft.
Would it always be so? I laughed
hysterically, "Stick-in-the-mud,
not you: you're flesh and blood."

We clambered out onto a rock
and dripped. Jenny wept from the shock:

"So that's it. You've barely found me,
and already you've almost drowned me.
O sure, that would have ended it."

"I hope you don't think I intended it."

"You said all those things just to awe me
and have an excuse to paw me."

She held my paw and pouted.
"Dumb me. I never once doubted
those wonderful things you said.
Well, maybe I'll soon be dead,
and then you won't have to worry.
Just don't be in such a hurry,
that's all I ask."

                        I frowned.
Did I really hope she'd be drowned?
"Now, now, that's nonsensical talk....
If the envelope sank, we can walk....
Yes, walk to....Now don't let a souse
upset you....How far's your house?"

"O honey, you'll come? You don't mind?
And you'll leave that contraption behind?"

"Why not? Why not?" I snapped,
"It's gone already." Trapped,
there....Gone. Ah why did I leave it
and not jump in to retrieve it?
I could see the plot unraveling:
she'd no intention of traveling;
but maybe I'd found out at length
that I just didn't have the strength.
Enveloped, envelopeless:
either way seemed so hopeless.

"Do you want us to walk or scurry?"

"Walk, Jenny. What's the hurry?"

"I only thought I'd ask."

"You thought. It's not a task
to think—with a brain so small?"

We walked along by a wall
of cement, splattered with gobs
of mud, and I heard her sobs.
They touched, they filled me with pity.

"You know, you look sort of pretty...."
(Somehow that sounded so sappy,
but I thought it might make her happy—
for why go on so peevishly?)

Then she looked at me, almost mischievously—
such a look as I'd never seen.
It melted both pity and spleen
at once—and she quickened her pace,
and before I knew it, a race
had begun, with me running after
the sound of her female laughter
as boulders went galloping past.
That a mouse can travel so fast
even mice find hard to believe;
but there my Genevieve
went flashing, racing, and streaking,
and filling the vault with her squeaking.

Forgetting my sorrows, I chased
her along that foaming waste,
now far, now close at her heels.
Then out among rubbish and peels
I glimpsed, by a rind of squash,
my envelope floating awash
far out in the cluttered water.

Just then Jenny paused, and I caught her.
And there by the echoing shore
we played our game once more;
and she seemed a more willing player,
more joyous, yielding and gayer,
and inwardly less refractory.
At last it was more satisfactory.

We lay: no sense being mad now.
Poor Jenny was all I had now.
She blinked. She still looked frightened.
The light, though, had steadily brightened
from down the tunnel, revealing
the height of the walls, the ceiling—
our world that gleamed at the touch of it.
I'd never seen so much of it:
huge slimy rocks, all glossy;
high walls, pea-green and mossy;
the river, foamy and fenny;
and now beside me, Jenny,
lit up—was that light from the sun?

Had genuine life begun
between this mouse and I?
In that light (perhaps from the sky)
that fell on her coarse dark hair
(there must be a drain down there)
she seemed—not really unpleasant:
the mind and the smell of a peasant.
Why not? Why not? She'd hear me
speak to her, always be near me....

"Jenny—down there: is it sunny?"

"Sometimes....D'you love me, honey?"

"Well I....Won't lust suffice?"

"O honey!"

                  "We're only mice,
after all."

              "But honey...but...."
she sobbed, looked pleading, then shut
her eyes. "I wish I was dead!"

"O my darling...my love...." Then I said
—for we all have to learn our part—
"Yes I love you...with all my heart."

She looked pleased; not a bit suspicious.
Do you think such lies can be vicious,
Reader? I might discover
one day that I really did love her...
only...the way she held me...
and stroked me...it almost repelled me.

Yet I'd entered this mouse's existence.
(My envelope there in the distance
was floating off down the river...)
what sort of a life would I give her.?
(floating alone to the ocean.)
I hadn't the slightest notion.
We'd live together; we'd labor.
I'd find more scraps than the neighbor.
I'd swallow my irks and bitters
and hunt up food for her litters—
just as my father had.

Would it really be so bad,
a life that was settled and sane?
There was light there (it must be a drain).
I'd sit there—the day's work done—
catching hints of the setting sun,
and glimpsing at night, through the bars,
the moon overwhelming the stars.

BOOK IV

Light flashed like fiery swords
on bottles, cans, wet boards,
jostling out in the water,
as I and earth's dark daughter,
my whimpering Genevieve,
like a fur-frocked Adam and Eve,
scurried by moss-covered rocks,
huge pipes, mysterious blocks
of cement (whose wheel-topped towers
seemed symbols of Unknown Powers
come from another dimension
beyond mouse comprehension)—
scurried (a doleful march)
along a narrow shelf,
then out through the mammoth arch
made by the tunnel itself:
scurried like creatures fated
out into the world that waited.

Then everything seemed to explode
with brightness; everything glowed
with such a fierce intensity—
Heavens, I thought, what immensity.
And the noises, the deafening din.
Could a mere mouse take it all in?

I heard a screech—and a roar
like tin cans rushing to war—
a terrible crash. Then the battling
ceased. Then chains began rattling.
Then—then I heard the humming:
a hideous nasal whine
impossibly hard to define
that kept on coming and coming,
God only knew from where.
I looked up...yes, up there
above the cemented plane:
from the top...why of course: a drain.

I remembered the drain that I'd climbed
at home that had clanged and chimed
and drenched me once with its rain,
but this was a superdrain.
It was dry and smelt of dust.

My eyes began to adjust
to the light, and I saw all around
one wall that rose from the ground
with stark geometric precision
to such great height that my vision
could hardly make out where it blended
with solar brilliance and ended.

I turned to Jenny. "Good gracious,"
I said, "Your home is spacious."

"What, honey?"

                         (Though she was near me,
that din made it hard to hear me.)
What mammoth paws could dig
such a hole?

                   "I said it's big,
your home here, the place where you dwell."

She looked at me sadly. "Well,
all this...isn't what we own.
We're there by the wall." (Her tone
was almost like that of a mourner.)
"Over there in the dingiest corner."

My poor underprivileged dear!
"You mean then, love, that we're
just two of lots of us here?"

I gazed at the rubbish and swillage
about us....Why yes: a village.
A settlement. In and out
of the trash that was lying about
I could see them scurry and scamper—
real mice! They liked the damper
places the best, it seemed.
Delightful. The shadows teemed
with creatures exactly like me.

Or were they? You couldn't see
well enough to be sure...but back
by the wall there (what did they lack?)
two licked at a lump of butter....
You just couldn't tell in the clutter.

What a fabulous heap of things!
Safety pins, spirally springs,
Tootsie Rolls with flappers,
buttons, cigarette wrappers
(all ages and all the brands),
rags, bottles, rubberbands....
What plenty this land dispenses,
I thought; it bewilders the senses.
Hundreds of tin-can huts
with fences of cigarette butts—
I'd never seen so many.

"Where does it come from, Jenny,
all this—this inundation?"

"Well honey, it's...Ci-vi-li-zation."

"It's what?"

                  "Well my brother thinks
it's something that clutters and sinks
down here to the lowest level
and leaves like this messy dishevel—
or some deep theory of his.
I'm not...sure what...it is."

"Does anyone ever hop
up through that hole at the top
and find out what's really there?"

"O honey, no one would dare.
That hole goes into the sky."

She was right: it was much too high.
Its bars could hardly be seen
in the glare and glittering sheen
of the sunlight beyond, that licked
down the wall, cemented and bricked,
and danced on the river below,
whose jewelled and sparkling flow
sent quick capricious reflections
flitting in all directions:
in all the darker and damper
places of shadow, they'd scamper
and play, making claws, tails, spines,
and other such ghastly designs....
What a spacious home for a mouse!

We'd come near Genevieve's house.

"H'lo, Jenny. Who'd you bring there?
I see he's still got his long thing there."

"Please, Daddy, don't start right away!"

We left the light of day,
Jenny leading; and coming inside,
I saw why the poor thing had cried
and called this a hole in the wall:
it was. Just a mean and small
dark hollow behind a brick.
I thought: but why can't they pick
up the place? Such heaps of litter!
No wonder it made her bitter
to see all this trash and waste:
grown mice so lacking in taste!

I was struck how merely a nest
could make a mouse feel so oppressed.
The very air seemed seething
with something that stifled one's breathing.

Jenny's mother approached unhurried,
paws dirty, fur uncurried,
stood still in the midst of her maze,
and followed my wandering gaze:

"We try to keep the place clean
and neat....I never seen
the way things do collect."

I stood there embarrassed, and checked
my glances. One didn't feel free here....

"I'm pleased," I murmured, "to be here."

"Well I hope you don't get the cramps in
our little home, Mr...."

                                   "Samson,"
I told her.

               "Hmm, funny name.
Well you're welcome here just the same,
Mr. Samson."

                      I noticed a small
and shriveled-up mouse by the wall.

"That's Daddy. He seldom speaks."

Daddy watched, though, with furtive peeks
from his squinting and shifty eyes.

"Come see my collection of flies,
Mr. Samson. Dad brings 'em home.
He finds 'em out in the foam
there floatin'....They're down here....(This squattin',
it hurts my legs.)...They're rotten,
of course—but they're cute little things.
Here's one with purple-edged wings."

She held up a fly that I saw
was as big as her warty paw.

"And this with the fat green belly
—would you guess?—was as soft as jelly
when Jenny's Daddy first found it,
and had a white mold around it.
Imagine. Don't know how sweet it
would taste if you tried to eat it.
That's somethin' I never tested...."

"Mommy, Sammy's not interested!"

"And funny, just..."

                                    "Mommy dear, bury
those flies. They're unsanitary."

"And funny, just now I was thinkin':
a lot of them flies must sink in
the sluice and stick to the bottom.
Now if someone dove down there and got 'em....
Has the air here got a bit thick,
Mr. Samson? You look kind of sick."

I'd completely forgotten her flies;
for while she was talking, my eyes
had glimpsed something really appalling.
My flesh began creeping and crawling.
O the pain, the shame, the disgrace!
Beneath the fur on my face
I felt my cheeks turning pale—
Jenny's father...was missing...his TAIL.

Not even a half or a quarter!
A stub that could hardly be shorter,
A lifeless, pale-white stump
bulged on his wrinkled rump
where a tail might once have been:
a knob of hairless skin,
shrunken, shriveled, and hard,
and yes, I could see it was scarred:
the sides folded into a crease....
If he'd only been left with a piece!
A length, however short—
but that death-white, sick-looking wart!
I stared and kept feeling iller.
If he'd been like Chaucer's Miller
and his wart only had some hair!...

His eyes encountered my stare
and blinked. He couldn't fail
to have seen that I'd seen that his tail...
O Heavens...a mouse's treasure.
The source of his selfhood, his pleasure.
And he stared so oddly at mine
with eyes looking hurt and malign—
as though I had something improper.
(It was, I'll admit it, a whopper.)

"That's quite a member there,
young fella. You better take care
a rat in the sluice don't catch it
and all of a sudden detach it.
When you gonna have it lopped?"

"Have it lopped?"

                           "Yep, chopped."

                                                     "...it chopped?
But, well I...."

                       I stared dismayed.

Then Genevieve came to my aid.
"Try, Daddy, to understand.
He comes from a different land
up the tunnel. He's got a use
for his tail when he swims in the sluice."

"Yes Daddy," said Jenny's mother,
"You don't know. He's from another
country, just like our honey
says. They behave kind of funny—
strange ways—queer sorts of custom....
It's that's why no one can trust 'em."

She surveyed me with pinched-up eyes.
I seemed to diminish in size,
and I thought as I kept feeling smaller
how horribly it would appall her
that minutes ago with her daughter
there by the bubbling water
a few feet away, like a brute—
that I'd pawed her daughter's fruit,
bitten into it, found it delicious.
Did she sense it? She looked so suspicious.

"So Daddy, you leave him alone.
You can see he's scarce full-grown.
He'll have it chopped soon enough."

"Aren't tails," I said, "pretty tough?"

"O yes. Mother Nature grew 'em....
A machine here chops right through 'em.
It hurts some—not too bad.
You tell him 'bout it, Dad."

"Well...it's a pincer...."

                                   "A pincer?"

"Well, no, it's more like a mincer...."

"And its mode of operation?"

"Its what? O yeah. Its mode....
Well it's sorta shaped like a goad
that's worked by this here hammer
that's cammed to the shank of a rammer
screwed tight there up on top,
and it gurgles and makes a slop-slop
sorta noise. Then this thing, see,
that's curved like a C or a G..."
(he flailed with his helpless paws)
"hinges down like a set of claws...
or maybe it's more like a vice...."

"You couldn't be more precise?"

"Well, like I said, it slides
in and out, and that fella there guides
the thing with this gadget to keep
it from cuttin' and gaugin' too deep...."

"I see."

           "And it's got a sump
to collect what comes from the stump."

"Yes...."

             "It's a neat operation."

"Evidently. What's its location?"

"O that I can't say, young fella."

"You mean you don't know?"

                                             "Well it's...well a
passage-like goes underground
where it's dark and winds all around,
and you feel along the bank
with your whiskers and find that there shank
with a rammer, then pull on this chain
with a..."

              "Yes, you needn't explain."

"...and then you sit tight in the manacle..."

"Ain't it nice that Daddy's mechanical,"
said Mom with a dry little cough
that finally switched him off.

I asked her, "Do all the males
in this country cut off their tails?"

"O yes, most every mouse
here ends with his own little spouse."

"And to marry he cuts off his tail?"

"I should hope so!"

                             "Each one without fail?"

"Dear me yes!"

                        Looking right in her eye,
I demanded brutally, "Why?"

Her features went stiff as a mask.
"Them's questions a mouse don't ask."
(Her voice had an angry quiver.)
"Don't know what they do up the river
where everything's muddy and dark.
Down here we all toe the mark.
It ain't no paradise,
you know, to make little mice.
It ain't just...well, when they're whelped,
the mamma mouse has to be helped.
The male's got his job—'tain't much
o' course—bring food and such—
but he can't just go off somewhere flittin'
and leave his female sittin'.
She'd get all strung up and on edge.
So he offers his tail as a pledge
and shows in his daily carriage
he's a mouse who's undergone marriage."

"I see. For a male, to be mated
means to get mutilated."

"Well you could say that, I guess.
But it's only a tail....I confess
I'd like to know how it is
with your daddy. He still got his?"

"Nearly half!" I cried in a tone
of triumph.

                 "I mighta known,"
she snorted...."Can't say much to that."

"It was bitten off by a rat
and not by any machine.... "

"There, Dad, now see what I mean?
Them rats can cut 'em off too.
'Tain't nothin' them rats won't chew,
the filthy things."

                         "'T's what I said!"
said Dad, "I just said it bled
pretty bad and gave 'em a grip
so's you couldn't give 'em the slip...
and he said that rat only got half!"

With a softly disparaging laugh
she replied, "Well a half's quite a nibble.
But it ain't my notion to quibble."

Her voice took a suffering tone
and went on in a weary drone.

"Them rats: just war, war without cease
with never a moment of peace—
and prowlers, the drain full of dangers.
We got to be careful of strangers.
As they say: 'Who gets in too deep'll
get drowned.' We're peace-lovin' people,
Mr. Samson. For better or worse,
'Tain't no one we've tried to coerce."

She looked me hard in the eye
and plucked the wing from a fly.

"We're proud of our land of freedom—
good mice with plenty to feed 'em....
So we just stay cozily home in
our nest and don't go roamin'
around....You been on the loose
for long?...What's it like up the sluice?
Flows kind of sticky and muddily,
don't it?...Our Jenny—she's cuddly,
ain't she?..."

                   "O Mummy, please!"

"Real cuddly...not many fleas
on our honey. We like to keep her
at home, so's some little leaper
out there in the rocks and the rubble
don't tempt her and get her in trouble...."

(My lungs! I was sure they were shrinking.
What was that creature there thinking?)

"It's her daddy, you know: he worries
a lot and gets into flurries
'bout nothin'...." (Daddy twitched
in his corner.)

                      I suddenly itched
all over. The air...the glint
in her eyes when she dropped a hint.
O her nasty insufferable talk!

"Hey Jenny, let's go for a walk."

"Daddy dear, we'll come back soon,"
said Jenny....

                     Outside it was noon;
and the whole world looked new-made,
as if by machine. No shade
was anywhere in view,
no green, and nothing that grew.
Where was I? Where had I been?
And where did this nightmare begin?

"Jenny," I said.

                        "Yes, honey."

"Your family seem kind of funny.,

She whimpered. "They make me ashamed.
They're poor. They can't much be blamed."

"Their beliefs seem a little bit queer....
We walked on in silence. "My dear,
I won't make a long recital...
but my tail...I regard it as vital...."
I cleared my throat with a cough.
"I'd prefer not to have it cut off...."

That last sentence seemed to entrance her.
"Genevieve, can't you answer?...
The tail is a vital part
of a masculine mouse. His art,
his bearing, the modes of his thought
are involved....In a universe fraught
with falsity and sham,
I need it to be who I am.
It acts as a subtle salve
to my spirit....It's all I have
in a world that I didn't choose,
this organ which, if I lose..."

"Would it really be such a fatality?"

"Well darling, my personality,
balance, innermost virtue...."

"O Sammy, I know it'll hurt you,
but everyone here expects it,
and it seems like the only exit."

"Do you mean 'the only way out'?"

"O I s'pose!..." (She'd started to pout.)
"Love, love, and what do we get?
Despised like an unwanted pet!
First I have to deliver
my flesh to his lusts...then shiver
with chills beside the river
exposed to that swampy ground...
then get in some gadget he's found...
and flounder...and almost get drowned....
Just as well: he'd planned to heave me
overboard down there, and leave me
anyway...innocent Jenny,
the first of no doubt many
for clever and handsome Sam,
who'll keep his member, and scram
as soon as my health starts to fail...."

"I won't, Jenny, cut off my tail!"

A dreadful silence ensued.

"Jenny dear...Jenny?...If you'd
just say something, Jenny....I know
you can talk...." (Poor mouse, she was so
inarticulate.)

                    "What can I say?
You have to have it your way...."
She sat by a bottle and wept:
"O honey, I'm so inept.
I know I'm too weak to stop your
refusing to let them lop your...
I don't understand your affairs.
The males here who chop off theirs
all look so clean and snappy....
You know best. I just want you happy....
But honey dear...please be discreet
and..."

            "And?"

                        "Well..."

                                      "Well, my sweet?"

"Hide it between your feet.
If you have to keep it to be you,
hide it so no one will see you."

I stared; and as we faced
in that barren mechanical waste,
I saw the thoughts that obsessed her....
O God, did I really detest her?

And yet my motion had carried:
with my tail intact we were married—
O yes: with a service, a civil
observance—Heavens, what drivel—
all done up fit and proper
to prove I'd the right to hop her—
as if a legislature
could dictate to children of nature.
I know: we needed propriety
now, for we lived in society,
and society watched like an eagle
to see what we did was legal.

So I tried to be happy and gay
to suit the occasion. The day
was hot; the river was smelly.
With my tail tucked under my belly
I tried not to squirm and fidget
or feel like the miserable midget
I was; but I felt pretty grim.

I'd composed them a marriage hymn
in my longing to be convinced
that, since I hadn't been minced,
our marriage might firmly root
in affection, perhaps bear fruit—
for why should a marriage be blighted?
And I stood on a box and recited:

"Helen, thy beauty's to me.
like my envelope-boat of yore
that gently o'er
this flowing perfumed sea
its way-worn wanderer bore
to thine own native shore.

"Through desperate sewers long want to roam,
thy hairs...thy hairy face
have brought me home
to glory in thy grease:
a grandeur in thy foam.

"Lo! by yon drainage ditch
stone-gray I see thee stand
upon a plane, tin-canned!
Ah, Psyche, from regions which
are holey land!"

"It's Jenny's her name, not Helen,"
said her father. "Ain't no way of tellin'
just what you mean exactly...."

("We speak more matter-of-factly
and say what we mean," said her mother.)

"But it must mean somethin' or other,"
continued her father. "That name
there and Genevieve's ain't the same,
and mice don't change their pelts.
Did you write it for someone else?
There's a lot there that don't seem to fit in it."

The dolts! I denied having written it,
grieved—but tried not to show it.
It was clear that I wasn't a poet.

Great verse for those pea-brains to pan!

Then we found a rusty can
in which we could settle. It leaked
when it rained, and the floor of it creaked;
but Genevieve kept it glued
with mud, while I hunted for food.

To find food wasn't so easy
with all sorts of tailless sleazy
characters looking where I did,
with whom I swam and collided.
It was thus—O monstrous enormity!—
slaves to their mincing conformity,
they—O my tail!—they'd sight it,
and one by one they'd bite it,
to show by an act so outrageous
that tails were disadvantageous,
increasing one's vulnerability.

Old tail, you'd kept your agility:
once, to the biter's surprise,
I whipped him across the eyes
with my queer unfashionable member.
Let that give him a thing to remember,
I thought. It did. He hawked
it about, and everyone talked
and wondered how I could dare
such a thing: it wasn't fair
to fight with what no one else had.
"That Samson's a poor sport, dad!"
they'd shout; and I, with that doubt cast
on my goodwill, soon was an outcast.

I was glad though: it eased the eons
I spent with those peasants and peons:
those troops of Handsome Dans
stubby as marmalade cans
who thought of nothing but food
and being legally lewd
with the prim little roly-poly
wives they considered so holy.
What were they but food for their fleas?

What friends could I find among these?
What kindred fiery rebels
among those huts and pebbles?

A lonely disconsolate Faust
in a world that was sadly unmoused,
I was known as "the grouch" and "the glum one."

But finally I did meet someone
down there where it boomed so dankly
with whom I could speak more frankly:

"Christ, Dugan, you seem to put up with it;
but you look like a broken cup with it
missing."

              The father and feeder
of many, a civic leader
(at which he was suavely effectual),
reputedly intellectual,
poor Dugan's rising success
only plunged him in deeper distress:
for sometimes he dared to think,
as he sat in the litter and stink
of his nest and scratched for a cootie,
of purity, fragrance, beauty,
and mice who weren't created
just to be mutilated.

"I've wondered how it would be
if I still had a tail on me.
I get on pretty well without it,
but you know, I've wondered about it.
We get them at our nativity;
and maybe our creativity,
talents what not, are affected
when the things are disconnected.
These are troubled waters to fish in,
I know: I'm in no position
to judge, but I'd like to hear
your opinion."

                      "Dugan, it's clear:
with the tail go the last residual
traits of the individual."

"Well I didn't know that much resulted,
Sam. Should I feel insulted?
But I think I see what you mean:
we've been victimized by 'the machine.'
You object. I admire your gumption....
So suppose we make an assumption,
to wit: Heaven purposed to fix
a male mouse's members at six.
Well the first four...."

                                "He needs for support."

"And the fifth?"

                        "He uses...for sport!"

"Yes and keeping the race statistical.
But the sixth?"

                      "It's something mystical!"

"Well perhaps....You could say it enhances
his lightness and grace when he dances."

"You think so? I never learned how."

"Only females do it much now."

"But it's mystical, Dugan, there's ample
proof of it. Here's an example:
put fifteen mice in a row.
The feet all go just so:
their ends are always connected,
and the fifth's the same when erected.
There's no independence there.
But the sixth can go anywhere,
up, down, sideways—all over.
Like the male himself, it's a rover:
one end of it's always loose.
It's sensitive, yet its use
is almost incomprehensible.
Then why is it so indispensable,
Dugan? This useless entity
signifies male identity.
What else could a tail be better for?"

"True, true; but that's only a metaphor.
Our argument's missing a link."

"Dugan, you know what I think?
Sometimes I think that we males
should chop off the tails of the females!"

"Well Sam, let's not stir up these embers....
To return to the subject of members:
as we know, the females arrive
in the world with only five.
Now the foremost law of our polity
states that all mice have equality,
and the female's a mouse: the nation
owes her its population.
Therefore the male, to convince her
she's equal, submits to the mincer....
Of course, if you don't subscribe
to the laws that govern the tribe,
this all sounds pretty inane.
I know what you think of our drain."

"It's vicious, Dugan, vicious,
because it's so meretricious.
It's a hoax—this inverted funnel.
This life? Life's more like a tunnel,
Dugan: it's dark, has a flow
to master. Believe me, I know.
It rages; and maybe you're tossed
by its waves, and maybe get lost
and drowned in your own despair—
but at least you're going somewhere!"

"Yes, you've said that its motion
leads out to your mystical ocean."

"But here you just plod, plod, plod
in contentment! And bless it!...And God,
as the sentimentalists say,
God shines in this shabby day!
But who's this God who's strung us
along and glows among us?
What sort of a hole did He drill?
A drain! That's His cathedral—
happiness, freedom, democracy!..."

"That's true, Sam, it's mostly hypocrisy.
Our hot-blooded democrats
cry up the war with the rats
to play on our own worst fears....
And you know, no one's seen one in years."

"Guess what, Dugan, I've known a rat."

"Well, Sam...keep it under your hat.
It's best. You can't ignore
the fact that the Country's at war.
Of course, they haven't sold me
me on this (and forget that you told me):
they say it to keep us content
with our lot."

                    "O Dugan, pent
up here in a masonried void
while our souls are being destroyed
with dished-up substitutes.
Toothpaste, gum-wrappers. Brutes!
convincing yourselves that this—this!—
is the Light and the Heavenly Bliss,
and the only place where one
gets a glimpse of the noonday sun!"

"Did you know, Sam? The sun has spots
sometimes. Big shadowy blots
appear up there on the grate
as big as seven or eight
mouse-bodies packed solid together.
They come in all kinds of weather
walking there over the sky,
no one knows how or why."

An eagerness shined in his features.
"Do you think," I said, "that they're creatures?"

"Some call them 'the Walking Giants'—
just mice with no knowledge of science,
you understand. We need
more positive facts, agreed.
A committee's been formed for these questions.
They've a lot of ingenious suggestions—
eye-sties, hallucinations,
dark clouds or bodies that fly
jumping over the sky—
but of course, no real conclusions.
You see, it's thought they're illusions—
just light or effects of the heat."

"No one says they're somebody's feet...."

"Well, Sam, our laws of causality
say this is the only reality
down here in these tunnels and vaults."

"Then maybe your laws are false."

"May be. There's the case of a mouse
I know. Not far from his house
one night, a shining vessel
hung down, he said, on a trestle
and opened; and creatures came out
—from some other world no doubt—
like mice except for the size
of their heads and their luminous eyes.
They invited our mouse inside
their craft, and he went for a ride
with them, pulled by a silvery chain,
he told us, up through the drain
and out into infinite spaces.
They stopped at various places—
at towers, at lights. Then they landed
somewhere, and left him stranded.
After hours of walking around,
he said he sank in the ground,
lost consciousness falling loose,
and woke up half drowned in the sluice.
He speaks of a fabulous city...
huge place...."

                      "Did he tell the committee?"

"Well yes, but they'd only scoff
at him finally. They said he was off
his nut. More politely: his story,
they said, was hallucinatory."

Dugan looked grieved and abashed,
as if all his hopes had been smashed:
"The committee met last December."

"And Dugan, were you a member?"

"Well yes, Sam." (Now he looked pained.)

"And how did you vote?"

                                       "I abstained."

O dreams, and dreams within dreams,
under the moon's mad beams—
and Dugan, driven half mad
with the nightmare life that he had.

I was lucky: I'd go off and roam
in the dark, leaving Jenny at home.
Did she sense I was driven by hopes
of finding lost envelopes?
I'd hoped that to have our lubricity
legal would bring her felicity,
genuine pleasure, that, wed,
she'd conquer her curious dread
of experience. Strange: propriety
seemed to increase her anxiety.
She became unduly obsessed
with her fleas, with cleaning the nest.
"If you pick away all that decay,
there'll be nothing to eat today,"
I'd remark when she cleaned the food.
We lived in solitude.
I'd say, "Visit your playmates, Jenny."

"I can't, when I haven't any.
Who'd talk to a female whose male..."

"Yes dear?"

                      "...goes round with a tail!"

O Heavens. What did they want,
these females? A sip from the Font
of Wisdom perhaps....To fix her
up with a homemade elixir,
I told her innumerable stories
of oceans and heavenly glories.
Sweet dreams. O lovely conjecture....
I remember a typical lecture
(on creatures with paws that were wings):

"Honey, where do you learn all those things?"

"Well dear, when the mind is quick...
I learned a lot from Old Nick,
a teacher I knew...a rat."

"You mean you've known creatures like that?"

"Why not, when they can enlighten me?"

"O Sammy, please. Don't frighten me.
I try to be at your service
and listen. Don't make me nervous
and plague me with things I'm unable
to cope with....I'm so unstable."

She wept—my elegant words
and theories of flight and birds
forgotten. I felt like snarling....

"What's troubling you, Jenny, my darling?"

"I don't know...I've never been
like this....I'm getting so thin."

"But dearest...you're fat as a plum."

"You always say that. Just come
and feel my elbows. They're bony.
You think all my ailments are phony,
don't you?"

                   "No, dear!"

                                     She whined,
"You think they're all just in my mind."

"Well dearest, you know...let's pause
and try and think of the cause."

"Well I think maybe...think it's...CANCER!"

"O Jenny...that can't be the answer."

"Then why do I keep getting thinner?"

"Well Jenny...try eating more dinner."

"I can't. The meat's all filmy
and gooy. Nothing will fill me.
Nothing. I seem to just fritter
my life away, empty...."

                                     A litter?
Was that how my little grumper
secretly longed to get plumper?

Moons passed in gathering dread.
One evening, scratching, she said,
"It might be the fleas that infest me,
Samson...that make you detest me!"

"What Jenny?...What did you say?...
Repeat that...."

                       "You don't like the day
down here.... You don't like our drain."

"Well, Jenny, I can't refrain,
my darling, from making reflections
and noticing some imperfections.
I shouldn't repeat them. I bore you."

"You think we're not good enough for you."

"Now Jenny...."

                         "You don't like my parents."

"Well Jenny...."

                        "You think poor Clarence
is crazy." (That was her brother,
the one who brought flies to his mother.)

"Well dear, when he shows you that statue
he's made and, looking right at you,
asks if you know where the master
got all its wonderful plaster,
then states in his quiet prose
that he pulled it all out of his nose—
then, dearest, he gives me the creeps."

"Honey please! Please! Clarence has deeps
that no one can comprehend....
I know I can't defend
my family. We've always been humble
and helpless....My mind's such a jumble....
All my life I've felt so inadequate...
and I felt so sorry when Daddy quit
swimming...gave up and retired...
because I've always admired
my Daddy...and Mommy's so cruel
to him...makes him look like a fool...
but he might have become someone finer....
I know you think I'm a whiner.
I'm sorry. It's just...I'm so tense!"

"Now Jenny dear, try to make sense."

Through her sobs she managed to pant,
"Can't you see, can't you see, that I can't!
You don't know what it's like to have devils!"

"Maybe not....The mind has levels...."

"I'd a dream last night that was filled
with monsters, and you...got killed!"

"Now dear..."

                      "You wander so much
up the tunnel, so far out of touch...
I'm afraid you'll meet that Old Nick...
or get robbed...maybe hit by a brick."

"Now Jenny, you know that's improbable—
and what have I got now that's robbable?
Look dear: you get in a quandary a
lot from your hypochondria.
You're split into levels, that's all.
For example, on what they call
the ego level above
(where you talk) you might feel you feel love
for me. Good. But down underneath
you might want to dig your teeth
in me...."

              "No, Sammy, no, that's terrible."

"Well dearest, it's not so unbearable."
(But what if she tried to impale
me some night—or bite off my tail?)
"It's painful, I know; but you rout it,
darling, by talking about it."

"I sit here alone all day...."

"Well make some friends; get away!"

"I know you just want me to leave you."

"Jenny no!"

                  "I try to believe you,
but somehow....O where will this end me?
Can't anyone comprehend me?"

"Well Jenny, you feel you've declined.
Now what does that bring to mind
in your past?"

                     "It...it used to be fun...
before...when I'd go for a run
up the tunnel...and lie there alone
in the dark...maybe chew on a bone...
or jump in the river and wade to
an island..."

                   "But now?..."

                                         "I'm afraid to!"

"Well Genevieve, why is that?"

"I'm afraid I'll...meet with a rat!"

"But you said you weren't frightened before...."

"I don't think so."

                           "But now by the shore
exactly where you...where we...
has it something to do with me?"

"O honey, the dark and the slime
and the rats..."

                       "Do you feel, Jenny, I'm
like a rat to you?"

                           "Rats would attack me,
and you....O please don't rack me
with so many probing questions
and awful horrid suggestions.
You take my love and rake it
and probe it—I just can't take it!
Don't question my love and my trust!"

Love. Love? At least we had lust....

"All right, honey—think you want to?
You want me to roll over onto
my stomach? But try not to claw
me too much and kick off my straw....
Not there, honey. No, not quite.
Did you clean your paws tonight?
I'm afraid you'll get dirt in there....
Honey please don't pull my hair....
Can't you get down there? It's lower.
That's right....O you're hurting. Go slower....
Go faster now. Feels like I'm wet there....
O honey, I can't seem to get there!
I'm trying. I seem so near....
Try blowing some in my ear....
Now give my breast a few licks."

"Which one, Jenny? Dammit, you've six!"

One morning at home in our can
my imaginings stealthily ran
on the mouth, hairs, form, of a keen
alert little female I'd seen.
She seemed so alive, had a dancer's
gifts and such pert little answers
(I think her name was Lizzy),
when—

             "Sammy, honey...you busy?"

"Not very."

                 "Something I...tell you..."

"What?"

             "Well, something you...well you
might be a...think it was galling...."

"No...tell...." (But she kept on stalling.)

"Well, maybe...." (She scratched for fleas
on her stomach) "...a litter....Please
try not to be angry...but time
after time, you know we've...and I'm
—I think—if you want to hear
—O please don't scowl at me, dear!—
my opinion—not that it's worth too
much—about to give...birth to...."

Give birth. Give birth to a litter.
I was silent. I wanted to hit her,
to pick up my tail and strangle her,
to find out that mincer and mangle her.
O sickles, hammers, knives—
her belly was teeming with lives!
They were floating around in a fluid.
O for the spells of a Druid,
black charms of a witch or a wizard,
to pinch out those lives in her gizzard,
those ravenous future mice
as yet no bigger than—lice;
for scalpels, sponges, sutures,
to snip out those menacing futures.
They'd grow. They'd need us. They'd own us:
our lives, our labor....O Cronus!
No doubts, no why's, no maybe's
stopped you. You ate your babies.
Only poor little Zeus could avoid you—
and he grew up—and destroyed you.

Dread womb! All lives when new
and dark, all lives—mine too,
and hers—once dwelled in you,
your confines grown enormous
to suckle, feed, and warm us
in our first dubious hours....
O stamp out the hideous powers
at work in that damnable crucible!
They prove that I'M reproducible!

O father....You loved; you lusted.
Mom swelled, and you were disgusted.
You wished her womb were a hearse.
I lived—and continue the curse.

"I see. Some new baby mice.
A litter. Isn't that nice,
dear....I think I'll hunt up some food,
my love." And I went off to brood.

Out there in the brick-lined void,
I watched them, the happy employed
about me. No one was crying
or wringing his hands. They were dying
slowly; they didn't mind.
The light there made one blind.
It only glared where it shined—
showed nothing....What cool circuitous
paths I had known, what fortuitous
springs....Had I traveled and traveled
only for this? Unraveled
the secrets of guidance, seeking
harmonious echoes, squeaking
my way through a roaring abyss,
only to come to this?
Undergone all that despair
just to sit in this tawdry glare
where mice who were here before me
hoot at me, snicker, ignore me?

O endless generation
to people this mousy nation.
O endless chain of wombs
stretching through endless time,
preserving our futility:
for still, still through them foams,
persistent as death, the slime-
filled sluice of our virility.

A crowd had gathered. In bleak
tones Icky began to speak,
our foremost tailless resident
whom we'd all elected president:

"My friends...the time is dead
when the rats can disturb our..."

                                                    I fled
before I heard any more
far down the darkening shore
to a place where I often sat.

O would that I were a rat!...
Yet Nick too—beaten, ashamed—
had sat in his corner, tamed.

Her family'd soon hear of her litter,
make cute remarks, and titter;
and Jenny who'd found me—and got me
with helpless whining—could trot me
before them, her pride, her goal,
her Samson under control
and quietly munching his beans
among the Philistines.
Then reason and sense would prevail
and Samson would part with his tail
and everything else in his pants,
and my whimpering whiner would dance
possessively all around me,
the first stray female who'd found me,
and nag about better food
for our unwashed squeaking brood
of "little mouse lassies and laddies"—
who weren't any fault of their daddy's:
he produced that crowd of mice
while fumbling in paradise—
as if paradise were there
under tufts of mouse-colored hair.

Ah, hadn't someone predicted
this? Who? O Heavens. Nick did.

O where was my quest for purity?...
Hateful male maturity,
animalistic craving:
the hidden guilty depraving
river god in my blood!
God Neptune, rising in flood,
lifting the raucous, strident
prong of his ruthless trident
that pins us down in the mud
of this world...
intricate shell
fluted and curled
with the gloomy breath of Hell!
A murderous god,
snarled—as in Vulcan's mesh—
and packed in a tiny rod
of boneless flesh:
the pitiless quivering bearer
of all our ancestral terror....

O dreamy-eyed whiskery lover,
yearning and itching
to pounce on and cover
that female you find so bewitching,
doesn't love come down from those stars
that twinkle up there behind bars?
O beasts, O thoughtless dummies,
did you suck in your lusts from your mummies?
No: The rampant fungal
growth of your own inner jungle,
the darkness in your own souls,
rises up in your hairless poles!

Ah, Reader, although I might milk a
line or two from Rilke
and cry, "O world, you weary us!"
I'm certain that I was delirious.

Night came; and under the drain
on the pale and deserted plane
I sat, looking up at the moon,
and remembered a sad old tune
that ages ago I had heard.
I squeaked it....

                        Then something occurred....
A vision. Right there in the night.
A female appareled in white.
A gleam—as of jewels from Tiffany.
This was it! My epiphany!
She glowed there as bright as the moon did.
O, and she soothed my wounded
spirit. I knelt down. I kissed her
paws....She seemed like my sister.
A certain look in her eyes,
clear as the bluest of skies,
her whiskers, the hairs in her nose.
Yet her fur was as white as the snows
that mantle the loftiest Alp!

She bent down and patted my scalp
and my ears; and it seemed that I saw
(at the touch of that delicate paw,
so light that I scarcely could feel it)
soft clouds and waves and the sea lit
with moonlight and starlight before me.

Then wind and lightning, stormy
towers and opening chasms—
delicious shivering spasms
and warbling swells of feeling
that made me feel like peeling
my skin off right down to the bone!

"At last I have found you alone,
my Samson."

                   The Goddess was speaking!
(My lowered eyes couldn't help peeking.)

"Samson, my ward, my charge,
many times in my viewless barge
into this dark tunnel I've come
to you..."

                 "Lady—O Goddess!—where from?"

"From the ocean's lucent waves
and blue interlunar caves,
where the gods so often have supped me..."

"Sweet Goddess...?"

                                    "Don't interrupt me.
Many the weary miles
from the blue-nosed Blessed Isles
I've come to tell you this:
that you must quench the kiss
that burns on your furry brow.
Your Genevieve doesn't know how.
Ignore the drain's high grate
and go to the Western Gate—
for the dark must end the dark.
Go to the gate and park
where bricks of crimson fall
down from the crumbling wall
and listen, and I will call...."

She vanished...."By God, I'll pursue her,"
I cried, "to the ends of this sewer!..."
How could I? She'd melted like mist.
Did that Goddess even exist?
(O Reader, I had to be dubious:
Heaven hath such power to booby us.)

Day dawned, and found me walking,
scurrying, worrying, stalking,
confused, without purpose or aim,
still brooding and thinking (O game
of life. And who was its winner?),
still looking for yesterday's dinner,
through caverns and far-flung caves
keeping watch on the soupy waves,
unable to reach a decision
about that perplexing vision
I'd seen, still unable to hope,
and there was—

                           My ENVELOPE!
Had the Goddess returned it? Uncanny!
There she was, stuck in a cranny
above me, touching my hair
and making me notice her there:
my joy, my Heaven-sent gift!

Once again I'd be someone enskiffed,
a mouse who was destined, a doer,
yes! Freed from the toils of the sewer,
escaped from all female wiles,
I'd see them—The Blessed Isles!
Let Genevieve go to the Devil;
that Goddess was on the level.

No more of this sitting immobilely.
I'd move. I'd travel globally.
Held high where the earth had caught her
(there must have been higher water
then, when I stopped to seduce
my Jenny beside the sluice),
she'd drained and was thoroughly dried.
I launched her and slipped inside
and glided downstream a few feet.
How sharp it felt, how sweet:
that envelope seemed like a knife
that cut through my meaningless life
and opened up new possibilities
for all my buried abilities—
so many—God knew how many.

Then I hid her and walked home to Jenny.
To Jenny: the thought made me gloomy.
That litter of hers would undo me....

"O honey, I've been so worried.
Why's your fur all uncurried?
Where have you been? I've been sick
with foreboding, and dreamt that a brick..."

"Jenny....You've eaten?..."

                                         "Sam,
what's wrong? You're different."

                                                 Damn,
how could she see it so quick?
"No, nothing....You say you were sick?
You had food? Did you fill the old tummy?"

"I spent the night with Mummy.
I was scared to sleep here alone."

Then her litter—O God, it was known.
"Did you tell her about...about...?"

She stared at me, seemed to pout.
"Well no, I...I...O Sam,
you don't know how confused I am.
I thought—when I told you—and heard
how you sat there without a word
so long—and I had such a fright
when you left, I thought that you might..."
(she looked at me, eyes opened wide)
"commit...commit suicide!"
She covered her face and, shaken
with sobs, said, "I was mistaken!"

"About what? That I'm not a committer
of..."

        "I won't be having that litter!"

"Too bad, Jenny. Gee...that's too bad."

"I know you're not very sad.
You'd rather just mope here alone..."

Ah, hadn't I always known
it was only a passing affair?
My craft could go anywhere
with me as its long-tailed sitter.
Sweet Heaven, she'd lost her litter!

"...Or you'd rather stay out with some friend,
deserting me nights on end.
You look at that drain above me
and dream....I know you don't love me....
Then looking me right in the face, O
why, just once, don't you say so!
You know, Sam, I'm not the dunce
you think. If you say it, just once.
that's all you have to do."

"Well Genevieve...maybe it's true."

"What's true? Honey what do you mean?"

"Well Jenny...let's not have a scene."

"Say what you mean, you dope!"

"I've found my envelope."

"You've found your...O, I see.
And of course it's too small for me."

"O Jenny...we know something's wrong.
Maybe I didn't belong
in the paws of a female at all."

She backed up against the wall,
eyes dry. "You're right. Something hexes
relations between the sexes.
The ways that you go and we go
are different....You think of your ego,
your aims—and nothing else!
Nothing outside of your pelts!"

"Now Jenny, that's somewhat unjust."

"And you hide there under your crust
of detachment and try to shrivel us
to something mean and frivolous."

"Genevieve, look, we've built
our life on timidity, guilt,
and fear. But those who stifle
the truth'll regret it. Their life'll
become an obsequious fiction,
their joys lack all conviction.
An inward dishonesty warps
the spirit."

                She sat like a corpse
without life—and not much motion.
(I tried to think of the ocean.)

"So it's over, then? Gone in the blink
of an eye—our life. You think
it was all a misguided mess."

I murmured forlornly, "Yes."

"Don't Just sit there, then, looking so sappy!
Laugh, cheer, squeak! Be happy!
Be joyous! At last you can leave
your whimpering Genevieve!...
O yes, I can see that it's true.
You've said so. I always knew
you didn't want me for life....
You'd rather have Dugan's wife!"

"O Genevieve, please, she's a nag
and you know it—with whiskers that sag."

She wept. "You like her the more
for them."

               "Look, we've discussed this before."

"O I know, my jealousy thrusts you
away and only disgusts you
and still I yell it and yelp it,
but can't you see I can't help it?...
And that Dugan—that pompous piker—
he doesn't mind if you like her.
The three of you sit there so snugly
together.... "

                    "Jenny, she's ugly!"

"You admire the way she outwits him,
argues, and tat-for-tits him."

"I think you mean tit-for-tats."

"Look, Sam—just get this—that's
how I want it—like that—and it's
my right to say, tat-for-tits!
I've always been frightened and furtive
with you. You want me assertive.
You tell me to stop my blinking
and do independent thinking.
You think I'm just beetle-hearted,
I know. Well now I've started.
Right now....All right....Your notion
about that magical ocean,
all sunlit—or so you said:
well I think you've got fleas in your head!
You heard what I said. I said fleas.
They carry infectious disease.
I'm glad I won't have your babies.
They'd all be insane—or have rabies.
And you were so dumb to believe me
about that!...Go on! Go! Leave me!
A mouse like you should be burnt!"

"Then Jenny, you knew that you weren't...."

"Why shouldn't I know it, you cur!"

"Then why did you say that you were?"

"I hoped it would make you careless....
I wish you were shaven and hairless,
then mice could see how frail
and limp you are. Your tail,
your ego—may God let it rot!—
has all the stiffness you've got!
You're so damned afraid of begetting
a mouse, you end up by wetting
my bed. It's true. Don't deny it!
You just need more meat in your diet....
O Sam, is it really finished?
My love for you hasn't diminished,
honey. I've struggled so, fought
so to make you happy, and thought
it could all be so cozy and nice—
two mice, two loving mice
together. We don't need a litter.
O why am I sometimes so bitter?
Why? Why? You'll go off alone...."

Her voice trailed into a moan.
Her furred chest rose and fell...
and then she went on in a yell.

"Go on! Have a cozy and fat
little life with that fairy rat
you told me about! Eat worms
with him, play with him, catch all his germs!
Be one of his nasty minions
and learn all his godless opinions.
You don't believe in The Lord,
I know....Don't look so bored,
you filthy swinish mouse!
Go on! Get out of my house,
you, you hamster! Nothing's exempt
from your suave blasé contempt
of everything you see—
God, my parents, me!
Just sitting there coy as a Cupid—
why don't you say something, stupid?..."

I'd hoped that expressing her grief
might give her some sense of relief;
but such spitting and caterwauling,
Reader—it was appalling.

"Sitting there planning your tour
to see all the sights in the sewer,
enjoying its modern facilities
freed of responsibilities,
philandering, pandering, lusting.
You know what it is? It's disgusting.
You males with your God Priapus
(that's all you believe in)—just hop us
then run off to younger cuties
who flatter you. Love has beauties
beyond you, you puffed-up he-males.
D'you know what it's like for females,
you egotistical duffers?
D'you know how a female suffers?
Do you?..."

                  O earth, earth, swallow me!
But don't let that fury there follow me!

"You say now it's all been so wrong.
Then why did you stay here so long?
Why? Why? Did you have to bereave me
of hopes before you could leave me?
Did you?...It's that scatterbrained Lizzy
who's got you in such a tizzy....
There's lots of unscrupulous vamps in
the drain. You don't know that, Samson.
You'll learn though, by God, that it's true;
and I hope, just hope, one gets you!
Some young thing, meaner and rougher
than I was, who makes you suffer
the way you've made me...O,
what's the use of this? You don't know;
and you're too thick-headed to learn.
I hope you burn, burn, BURN,
in your goddamn sunlit ocean!"

I watched her, numb with emotion,
watched as she made a hop,
picked up a bottletop
("Yummy Mustard," the label read)
and vaulted it square at my head.

I ducked to let it pass,
then saw—with a sliver of glass
she'd found—my wife coming at me.

"I'll teach you you can't high-hat me."

The glass like an icy claw
flashed in her flailing paw.
Deftly I caught at the wrist
and held on for life. She hissed
and squirmed; we grappled and struggled.
(How often we'd loved and snuggled
like this.)...

                 Then her body grew limper,
softer...she started to whimper:
"O honey, just tell me you love me.
Just tell me, or maybe you'll shove me
over the brink...."

                           "What...brink?"

"I don't know, honey, sometimes I think
I'm going right out of my mind.
Just say you won't leave me behind."

"No, dearest...no...no never."

"And you'll stay with me, honey, forever,
and won't make me lose my grip...."

"Yes, dear....I'll just take a trip
now and then."

                       "O Sammy!...Where?"

"Well sweet...there's a new kind of air
down the tunnel. I'll try out a sample.
If it's tasty, I'll bring home an ample
supply. It'll give us, my dear,
a completely new atmosphere."

"O Sam, a new beginning."
(Poor Jenny, she thought she was winning.)

"Yes darling."

                      "Honey....When?"

"As soon as I'm back here again."

"Don't say that just to appease
me, honey, promise me—please."

"Yes darling. I'll always...promise."

Night came; and it seemed to calm us.
Genevieve said she was tired
but hopeful. She only desired
hypocrisy. O, I could weep.

I looked; she was fast asleep.
With her fore-paws between her knees
she breathed with that soft little wheeze
she had....And when I was gone,
when, stretching her paws with a yawn,
she wakened, would anyone feed her,
take care of her, love her? O Reader,
I felt such a desolate pity.

She stirred. She looked almost pretty.
I watched her, strangely excited.

O Rose, thou art sick, art blighted,
seedless, sterile, cankered—
poor Rose, whom Samson once hankered.
Through the night he sculled—the worm—
full of his songs and sperm,
sculled through the howling storm
to thy bed—it was crimson and warm.
His viewless craft he anchored
in thee...and now thou art cankered.

Now back into depths unknown
he flies, unbodied, alone
in a Valley of Death, a Canyon
of Darkness, no mouse for companion,
his envelope only, gift
of the Solar Power, shift
and means to plunge further into
regions no mouse had been to
ever, of gloomy sewer,
a palpable obscure
and chaos indescribable
of waters, unimbibable.

Of course, the ocean was there.
Did I want it, though—did I care?

I watched to make sure she slept,
put more straw on her belly, then crept
from our hut forever. Worried
lest someone there see me, I scurried
across the moon's barred beam
to my envelope downstream.

With the moonlight behind me aloft,
I stood in the darkness. I coughed;
then coughed again, oppressed
by a curious pain in my chest.
A voice seemed to say, "The damps in
the drain have affected you, Samson."
Through countless moons, I'd raged
at the life in that drain; and I'd aged.
Now, heavy with cramps, with catarrhs,
would I find them, the deathless stars?

PART THREE
THE APOTHEOSIS OF A MOUSE
BOOK V

Ever onward I wend, I wend.
Will this tale in verse ever end?
This clearly fantastic endeavor—
or will it go on forever?
This tale, this tune that I fiddle—
or will it end in the middle
with nothing conclusively said yet,
with the mouse (me) not even dead yet?

O Reader, don't scoff;
many a tale's chopped off
before it reaches its end.
Sadly I wend, I wend.

O father, one rainy September
you swam in the sluice
and lost your member;
but you didn't lose heart,
asking, what was the use.
As your life kept dismally dimming,
you played your part
and kept on swimming.

In this world where everyone loses,
I have brought my complaint to the Muses;
in the darkest depths of Hades
I ventured among those ladies
and complained about my existence.
And what did they council? Persistence.

What can you say to that?
I've escaped from the rat;
I've escaped from the girl;
so, Muses, on with this whirl,
and since we can't give it up, let's
keep on grinding out couplets.

I sound like a dreary old Stoic....
I need a tone more heroic.

O pilgrimage, vision; quest
for the missing Isles of the Blessed;
O absurd and impossible dream;
O mighty, most meaningful theme;
O theme in which I wallow...
is it starting to sound slightly hollow?
Yet the crowds of mice who sink
in the search...which leads me to think
of those sages and poets of yore
who've managed to get there before,
and of one, my guide and my leader.
Do you suppose, dear Reader,
that the Muses or maybe some god'll
be angry to hear that my model
(Though the traces may seem somewhat scanty)
was that fellow whose name was Dante?

Ah what could be more superficial,
insensitive, injudicial,
or make critical readers wrother
than to imitate such a great author
—that darling, that pet of the age,
with professors for every page—
than for such a diminutive creature
to prove such an overreacher?
O yes, I've a fearless nature.
But Reader, don't let it grate your
quivering sensitivities.
No one can thwart his proclivities;
and indeed, that passionate Guelph
wasn't so modest himself.
Or was he a Ghibelline?
O Reader, try, when I mean
so well, not to grumble or grouse.
I'm only an ignorant mouse.

No doubt you'll understand
when you hear how the labors were planned
of this grim gray Hercules
ill-washed and infested with fleas.
The first of three books was to tell
of my childhood—of course, that was Hell
from which I finally escaped
in something envelope-shaped
to the second book of the story,
which was to be Purgatory,
in which Jenny—but first Old Nick—
would make me dizzy and sick
with passions whose violent urges
acted as marvelous purges,
so that after those two awful trials
I could sail to the Blessed Isles,
which would be Book Three, a concise
description of Paradise.

It was Nick, the rat, who balked
these beautiful plans. He talked
and he talked, and propped on his shelf,
hogged a whole book to himself:
all squandered on just the relation
of my formal education.
In sorrow I finally stirred from
his shelf with Jenny unheard from:
I'd swallowed your baited hooks,
O Learning; and now in books
divided—no longer unanimous—
my anima and my animus,
my Solomon and my Sheba,
like halves of a pregnant amoeba
puffed turgid with verbal agility,
had split my sensibility.
Reader, behold the scars.
And yet, observe: the word "stars"
—as in Dante, who loved such connections—
still terminates each of my sections.

Then Jenny; and life kept growing.
Like the sewer the lines kept flowing.
I was frantic, I wanted to snuff
out the life in this animate stuff,
do anything, amputate, prune it,
to keep her a single unit..
but my Middle Book soon was a Trinity
threatening me with infinity;
and I cursed myself and my story
for including a Purgatory.

And now? Now Samson ambles
onward through these shambles,
his life with him, its hero,
collapsed—a chaos, a zero—
the star of it fizzled, unstarrable—
gray fur in the dark. It's horrible.

But at least it's over with Jenny.
Did I say she was moley and wenny
all over her belly? No matter.
May embryos soon make her fatter.
But what's all that to me
here buried again like a flea
in the darkness under the bodice
of earth, that stomachy Goddess—
a flea in her belly-button,
gnawing a morsel of mutton
scooped out of a slimy sluice
and sucking its vital juice.
O Samson, fellow mucker,
weren't you always a sucker?
A mouse in what mental condition
goes chasing an apparition?
A goddess. What could be sweeter?
She told me to float down and meet her,
to paddle somewhere and wait
in the dark by a "Western Gate,"
where the bricks fall down, pitter-pat;
but where in Heaven was that?

I was drifting, presumably seaward,
when out in the dark to my leeward,
I heard a loud "Kerplunk!"
—like a bomb—and nearly got sunk
in the waves rolling out from the splash.
That's fine, I was thinking, they'll smash
me and end me at last—when a flash
not far downstream appeared
in the dark, apparently neared,
then vanished without explanation.
No doubt my imagination;
and on I drifted: alone
with my mutton, now gnawed to the bone.

Could I not be alone? I stared
into gloom, miasmally aired,
where walls, undoubtedly slimy,
were slipping invisibly by me.
Could something be moving, unseen
in front of the boat, or between
the boat and the wall? Any sound
it made would be easily drowned
in the sluice's bubbling and seething.
I almost could hear something breathing.
Was there life in this miserable moat with me?
There was. Right here in the boat with me.
O God! In this inch—so near
I could feel its breath in my ear—
it tickled—my ear lobe twitched—
in the boat—the boat was bewitched!

"Now Samson, stop your fretting."

"My what?" I called out, sweating.

"Stop rocking the boat! Poor dear,
I'm not a flea in your ear.
I'm your goddess. I left off shining
just now when I heard you were dining.
Is your gnawing always so audible?
Your manners are scarcely applaudable."

As she spoke, the smelly bituminous
darkness glowed, and a luminous
mouse appeared in front of me.

"I think you can bear the brunt of me
now."

         "Yes Goddess...yes...
but Goddess..." I said in distress,
as I gazed at her moon-silver coat
with its shimmering fur, "can the boat?
There's two of us. Goddess, you'll think it
absurd, but I've tried this. We'll sink it
together, I very much fear it."

"Think nothing of it. I'm spirit,
dear mouse. I can dance, I can caper,
but vessels, though only of paper,
won't sink, for I'm light as a feather.
So we'll sail through your tunnel together.
How's that? Just hunky-dory!
Pretty soon I'll tell you a story.
But first I must tell you it's crude
to munch when you eat good food
in a sewer. The gods create it,
you know. Do you like it?"

                                         "I hate it."

"But why?"

                  "It stinks."

                                   "Poor dear,
has life gone rotten down here?
And I thought it was such a treat.
If it smells so, why do you eat?"

"Well Goddess, the strongest drive
in a mouse is to stay alive.
It's silly, I know."

                           "My finical
Samson. No wonder you're cynical.
In Heaven the food never sours."

"And what do you eat then?"

                                            "Flowers.
O many too many. A posy a
day with pounds of ambrosia."

I felt annoyed. This sappy
goddess sounded so happy.
Was it she whom I'd knelt to adore
when I saw her in vision before?
Her ankles were fat and stubby.

"That food you eat's making you chubby."

She giggled, then answered brightly,
"But I do eat my dinners politely."

"I thought I was eating alone."

"I've noticed, Samson, you're prone
to think you're the only one here
in the universe. Samson, you're queer.
Do you realize how queer you are?
A mouse, and you're chasing a star
in an envelope. Say! How far
do you think you've managed to roam
by now from your family and home?"

"God knows. They're lost in another
world."

            "You can picture your mother
though, can't you? Alone in the damps in
her drain, bereft of her Samson...."

"She's living?"

                      "O yes."

                                    "But forlorner?"

"Not much. They're around the next corner.
They'll all appear in a second."

"Impossible!"

                     "O? Then you've reckoned
your course?"

                      I was silent.

                                         "You've pondered
precisely the path that you've wandered?"

"I think it's been more or less straight."

"Yes, time and the river create
that impression. You're sure it's the case?
Perhaps, by a warping of space
or of time, a path through this murk'll
be curved and you've gone in a circle.
The Theory says courses uncharted
lead back to where they were started—
in this case your own nativity."

"What Theory is that?"

                                  "Relativity."

"Aw Goddess, haven't we clowned
enough?"

              "But the Theory's renowned,
and everyone knows that it's true."

"By what clear proofs do you?"

She was silent. O memorable day:
I was holding a goddess at bay.
But these choice imbecilities fired
my thoughts, and I blurted, inspired,
"Ah, Goddess, we borne by this stream
must learn many lives, that gleam
for a while, then sink in these glooms
as candles snuffed in our tombs.
Like a moment, each place that we saw lit
vanishes. None can recall it;
none can go back to the ground,
any more than the day, where the sound
of his childhood crying and laughter
echoed. Once. Never after.
We're here: with one direction
to take; and without reflection
we take it, the current churns,
and no mouse ever returns.
Appearances don't deceive:
only things we invent and believe."

"But Sam, I'm a goddess: who knows
what powers I have? Suppose
I could bring you back with a swish
of my paw to wherever you wish
in your life—to your mother, the many
real comforts you had with your Jenny
(poor Jenny, I hear she's been sick,
by the way), or that clever old Nick;
just suppose by a magical track
I could show you...."

                                "I can't go back."

"But suppose you could really go,
you would maybe—wouldn't you?"

                                                      "No."

"Good. Then let's go forward.
One glance apprehensively shoreward,
and you'd have been finished. Despair
is the only way to the air
and sunlight. Because you don't care
any more, you've found the essential
release of your inner potential."

I was silent. This half-baked sleazy
psychiatry made me uneasy.

"Well Samson, before I get triter
look hard downstream. Is it brighter?"

Good Heavens, it was. But how
could she see it, up there in the bow
looking aft? Her back was turned
to the light, which I hardly discerned
myself. It was there, though: a glowing
faintness, a quietly growing
circle afloat in the denser
darkness, becoming intenser
each moment....

                        "O Goddess!"

                                              Her color
and silvery glow were duller
and fainter. She seemed to erase
on the light's enormous face
approaching....But soon her fey light,
gone like a moon in the daylight,
returned as a shadow. And still
light grew at me, started to fill
the tunnel....The end of the tunnel!
O the stars'll be twinkling, the sun'll
be shining! Great God, will you shatter
my senses completely?...

                                      No matter.
We won't forget who I am.
Too bad, but we can't. I'm Sam,
the mouse. The child of scorn
and father of litters unborn.

The darkness over my head
arched past. Day glared. Half dead,
I glared back, open-eyed
and witless. "Samson, you've died,"
called a voice; but a freshness thrilled
in my lungs, which gasped and filled
with the daylight, and something inside
of me thumped on my ribs and cried:

"By God, Sam, you're more adventury
than any mouse in this Century.
Who'd dare to do what you've done?
Born to behold the sun
in its naked glory, you strummed
your own queer harmonies, thumbed
your snout at parents, Learning,
and litters, and scorned returning:
for yours was the fate of a borer
through tunnels, a fearless explorer
of ever new worlds: the gigantic
sky of the heaving Atlantic—
spaces unbounded—prolific
waters—perhaps the Pacific!"

I squinted my bulging eyes
and gazed with a wild surmise.

"O Goddess, I think I'm frightened."

"Well Sam, when you're still unenlightened,
that's just exactly the harm a
good dose of guilty karma
will do."

             "But Goddess, it's gray
here and dismal. Is this bright day?"

"Sam steer!—if you don't want to swim."

"But why is the sky there so dim?
Am I blinded, O pedagogue?"

"O Sam, it's this beastly smog....

   "When coal and coke
   go up in smoke
that skyward curls and capers,
   the molecules
   from all those fuels
condense in copious vapors.

"How's that? There's nothing sweeter,
I think, than a lyrical meter....

   "Dirty and black,
   the smoke falls back
after its fond ascending.
   Once more it burns,
   goes up, returns—
and so up and down without ending."

"But Goddess, it rises, the wind'll
take it, and won't it dwindle?"

   "It's not decreased,
   though much is released
up into the sky's clear quiet;
   for deep in her glooms
   earth sweats and fumes
in great black heaps to supply it."

"Goddess, I don't understand."

"Well Sam, it's the nature of land:
round earth is the sun's fat spouse,
and the mountain's come forth with a mouse.
Do you like it here? Isn't it neat?
So flat—but no place for your feet."

"Yes Goddess, it's quite a pond.
But what's that darkness beyond—
drawing close, as this greasy and fake water
flows through the clear?"

                                      "The breakwater.
That's our Blessed Isle."

"It is? It looks like a pile
of stones."

                "Yes, protecting the harbor."

"But the Holy Groves? The Arbor,
the Vine, and the Grassy Orchard?"

"Sam, are you sitting there tortured
by silly notions from fables
when good oily water enables
this vessel to travel and saves
it from swamping? It's filming what waves
there are. You're lucky it's foggy
and windless. This envelope's soggy
from whole darn lives of wear."

She was right; we soon were there,
chose one of the natural docks
in the shore, climbed high on the rocks,
and looked at the cosmos. One couldn't
see much. Of course, one shouldn't
complain, I supposed. It was roomy
and quiet, but almost as gloomy
as buried in earth. Thick mists
rolled in from the water, and twists
of it wove like cottony rope
through the rocks. A puddled slope
or ghastly pinnacle near
and black might disappear
in a moment, and then re-emerge,
as if from the furthest verge
of Creation, darkly intact,
the next.

             Was it real? Where were fact
and reality here? The only
sounds were a moan and a lonely
bell in the harbor....Obscurity,
nothingness—regions of purity.
With this chill and smoky smell
in the air, it might be a hell
of sorts....

                With a goddess beside me...
and what new relations had tied me
in mad little tendrils to her?
I examined her milky fur.
She seemed so innocent, chaste—
chubby: a virginal waste
of flesh with pale blue eyes
that twinkled with girlish surprise
and bouncy delight. Ah youth...
she made me feel old and uncouth:
obscured in dismal airs,
miasms, gray despairs....
But what if I suddenly kissed her?...
She looked too much like my sister,
or like me....

                   Could I sit and ignore her
though—Samson, the fearless explorer?
I thought of that famous old Ponce,
who, seeking Eternity's Fonts,
set out in glory, in pomp,
but ended his days in a swamp
—O the black things that hatch from an egg—
and I put my paw on her leg.

She gently moved it away.
I returned it, as if in play.

"I can see," she said, "that you, sir,
expect to become my seducer.
That's not the sort of relation
conducive to inspiration.
I think you've found that out."

I scowled, pretending to pout.

"Now Samson, don't look peeved."

Perhaps I was really relieved,
who knows?

                     "We shouldn't. You know,
dear mouse, it makes things grow,
such things as mice are made of,
things which I think you're afraid of.
So try not to look so demonic,
my dear, and we'll keep it Platonic."

She emitted a gay little squeal:
"Hey Samson! Can't you just feel
our spirits vibrate together?"

"Aaa..." (I couldn't tell whether
I did or not.) "...I think so....
Do these rocks here still have to stink so?"

"Poor Sam. It's Your habit of seeing.
If you'd let me transform your being,
you'd shortly see visions of Heaven,
Brahma, the Sacred Seven."

"Well, okay, Goddess, I'll try it."

"Will you really? All right, sit quiet.
The webs of the world are stitching....
Sit quiet!"

               "Goddess, I'm itching."

"Let's see now. What's after this?
O yes. Aesthetic bliss
would maybe be more in your line.
Shall we try that, Samson?"

                                          "Fine."

Slowly the fog surrounding
grew thicker. A voice was sounding
nearby in the featureless pall
that covered us, goddess and all:

"There's a critic I know who insists
that a poem's real meaning exists
in the silence between its lines.
Imagine. The poet designs,
around this silence we feel,
real things—like the spokes of a wheel
pointing inward. But nothing can enter
the silence, the empty center,
nothing but wordless feeling.
This circle of images, wheeling
words and harmonious facts'll
be motionless. Not till an axle,
the listener's feeling, comes in
can this verbal perfection spin."

"Sam listen! Boy, I'm dotty
about these queer literati.
Now someone will answer, but he
(the second one) won't agree."

"Aw bugs to your critic. Textual
blow-hards."

                    "His image seems sexual
really: the poem as a whole
to be probed by the listener's pole."

"Has Phyllis come back yet?"

                                           "Well no....
She's gone somewhere? Where did she go?"

"Went up the sewer to fetch
that mouse."

                   "Ah yes. Poor wretch.
What on earth'll he do out here?"

"Be a square like you."

                                   "Never fear.
He's not my sort. Just look
at the plot of his latest book.
It was—how shall I say?—so unsubtle.
Now all very well to scuttle
his envelope for a doxy,
who must have been pimply and poxy
anyway—but—to get wived
to her—well, that was rather contrived.
But then to have Phyllis enter
as if some pixie had sent her,
and then to discover his craft
within hours—after months! I laughed
at the gaucheness. There we were, back in a
time with a Deus ex Machina."

While the voice was speaking (quite near)
two mice began to appear
among swirls of vapor.

                                   "Lord, fill us
with joy!" cried the speaker, "There's Phyllis!"
(The other looked round, gave a jog
and a hop, and was gone in the fog.)
"...And Mr. Samson...I'm pleased...
I admire your...a...A!" He sneezed
and blew his nose with his paw.

"And I," I said, "I...a...saw
a friend of yours—why did he vanish
so quickly?"

                   "O, they're clannish,
those fellows. I wouldn't pretend
to know—and he's not my friend.
But Phyllis dear, hear the latest.
I'll admit that it's not the greatest...."

"You've composed something new for us, Benny?"

"Some lines, yes, not very many,
of course—the Broken Towers,
you know—we husband our powers.
If you'll all promise not to peek,
I'll go back in the fog and speak
as if from another existence.
I believe in aesthetic distance,
you see."

               He seemed to float
into nowhere, cleared his throat,
and soon the fog was a-quiver
with tones coming straight from his liver:

"Because in clause after clause
my pomegranate paws
have fiddled the fops of fancy
and all my filigree snouts
have dipped in the mystic spouts
till roseleaf puddles have boomed,
I have assumed
that Nancy
will fluff das nötige Kissen
but will not listen.

"Because I am..."

"Can you understand this, Sam?"

"...he of the hair-buried chant..."

"God,, Goddess, no, I can't."

"...who pulled up all windbags to blow a tree..."

"That's how you know that it's poetry."

"Because I strove to win
nel mezzo del cammin
di nostra vita
the small sad fruit of Rita
and she, she I had chosen,
da in meinen Hosen
felt for, but failed to feel
le serpent qui brűle;
this simple chant
(much to be conned and flipped o'er)
as a lone ant
on a broken anthill, ego scriptor."

"Gee, what a style he's got!"

"It's certainly polyglot."

"They say he's terribly gifted."

"And to think of the miles I've drifted
to hear him..."

                       "Some think him the best
of our talents. I hope you're impressed."

"O yes, Phyllis—that's your name?—
but I think maybe all the same
I'll go for a walk in the hazes
before he comes back for his praises."

I left; but where would I walk to?
the mouse that Benny had talked to
intrigued me. A kindred soul....

I found him perched on a knoll.

I said, "It's miserable weather...
sun, stars, seem gone altogether."

"Yeah something's all out of whack
up there in that Zodiac.
It messes up everyone's karma.
I know. I took up the Dharma
last year. And you know what, chum?
I'm known as a Dharma Bum—
belong to a little group
that's got the original scoop
on hopped-up Nirvanic felicity....
Gets us a lot of publicity."

"You're a friend of Benny's?"

                                             "Aw no.
I just like to hear him blow
sometimes."

                   "His poems?"

                                         "Fantastic,
real stultified-like and scholastic.
Those guys need someone to show 'em
more how it's done. Like my poem..."

"You're a poet too?"

                                "Yeah....Well this work
was suggested in part by this jerk,
see, I met down the road, with a daisy
there, stuck up his nose—sorta crazy,
I mean, man—out there!—like he
got messages out of his psyche
to climb up cathedrals and piddle
in somebody's ice cream—or riddle
the Sphinx with a can of lysol
that spills and leaves dead mice all
over—a real aboriginal
type, see. My poem's quite original.
It deals with the world of today
and shows us our modern decay
and how we're all bugs. It's an ode
to a syphilitic toad.
Man, it's gone."

                         "Where?"

                                         "I mean gone!"

"O," (I suppressed a yawn)
"That's interesting."

                              "Look, I'd repeat it.
But I haven't had time to complete it.
So I can't. You don't mind?"

                                            "Not greatly."

"I haven't had time for it lately.
Sorry. You're sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all."

                  "You see, it's designed
to have free-flowing rhythms that reach
to the roots of our natural speech.
I got feelings about the way it
should go. I almost could say it.
Better not. You don't mind?"

                                            "Not a bit."

"You're sure?...Yeah it might not fit
here too well—in this phony rhyme
we all have to talk in. See I'm
what they call a free verse writer.
I've heard the expression's tighter
in rhyme, but I find it's extraneous
and keeps me from being spontaneous."

"You seem to be doing fine."

"O yeah!...But this poem of mine..."

"It's begun, you say..."

                                  "Started to jell.
I got plans about how it'll sell.
I'll give it a wild recitation
that ought to create a sensation,
and then we'll get some clown
in the crowd to take it all dawn;
and as soon as I get it in print
and banned, it'll make me a mint."

The fog bank mercifully thickened,
and I walked away, feeling sickened.
O for a glimpse of the sun!

Then Benny came by at a run.

"I won't let that fellow outshout me!
Samson, what was he saying about me?"

"That he likes to hear you 'toot'
—no, 'blow,' he said."

                                   "Samson, ecoute.
That fellow's hobnobbing with thugs.
They plot with each other, take drugs
that can kill them..."

                               "Then what's the problem?"

"...or maim them, stunt them—hobble 'em.
They're mongers of crude sensation.
You've heard his recitation?"

"No."

          "You can bless your good luck.
When he starts, he goes on like a truck
without wheels. We'll all be run over
and Learning crushed into clover
and mire—all muddied up, mucked!
His style is so awfully sink-sucked."

"What's that? "

                       "The reverse of succinct."

"And your style?"

                            "My style is tinct,
I admit, with a wealth of illusion
which sometimes causes confusion
and even ill-feeling in oafs
who don't understand my strophes,
but I think I avoid pomposity."

"Your style's a perfect monstrosity."

"Sir?"

          I walked off into
the fog. Was it really a sin to
murder, I wondered, as if
I could—OOPS! I fell off a cliff.

That clause is unfinished, I thought
as I plummeted downward, caught
and twirled by the forces of gravity,
and now in some foggy cavity....
My head bumped loud on stone.
From somewhere I heard a groan....

"There's Samson. He's lost his youth."

I felt a pain in my tooth...
then a fluttering. Creatures were gripping
my entrails, probing me, dipping
their paws in my blood. They were sipping.
They crowded around me in hosts.

"Who are you?" I cried out.

                                          "Ghosts.
Free spirits. We feed on the fumes
that rise from the sewery glooms
of the world. But though we're dissolved
in the fog, we're committed, involved,
like the members of Dugan's committee
who laughed at the Heavenly City.
This place here has no place to hide,
so choose your belief, take a side."

Fresh groups of them swarmed and flitted.

"He's apostate. He's uncommitted.
Eats alone in his boat and pretends
he can live without family and friends.
He deserted Old Nick. He wronged
his wife in a drain. She longed
for a litter."

                  "Her little mezzo
voice never once even said so!"

"He decamped, was afraid to fulfill her.
He was born with the soul of a killer."

"Was I?...I tried to develop her
mind."

          "He refused to swell up her
belly....She let him convince her
to hide his tail from the mincer
and so he despised her groin
and refused to join, to join
the club, the paternity club
of the chopped and truncated stub,
and he never once learned the device
they used. Male married mice
returned from it bloody and blistery,
but Samson left it a mystery,
didn't care if it worked or not
in his badly constructed plot."

"He thinks he can make me hoot
with laughter. But really, ecoute:
he leaves every life on the run
before it's halfway begun;
then sits in his vessel and strums
one poor little string with his thumbs."

"Yeah, blowing his flapdoodle flare.
O man, that Samson's a square.
Hey thugs, he thinks he has wits.
Come on, let's tear him to bits."

They crowded around me like doctors
in white with scalpel and sponge.

"Right now, right now, fellow proctors!
Pull out your libels and plunge!
Feast on him now. He's decayed."

"O God!"

               "Samson, don't be afraid.
It's Phyllis, your lady, your goddess.
Come creep here under my bodice
and hide in my belly-button.
It's furnished with lumps of mutton."

Half smothered, I managed to pant,
"Dear Lady, you know that I can't!
Don't go setting my poor aching head agog.
Help me, help me, sweet pedagogue!
Fend them away, or they'll kill us!"

I woke; and there was Phyllis
above me. I heard her warm
soft voice through the fading swarm
of spirits.

             "Poor Samson: at bottom he's
torn by aesthetic dichotomies."

"Phyllis, I think I fell..."

"Yes, Sam."

                   "...in some sort of Hell
where demons with memories prod us."

"The Spirits of Fiction."

                                    "Goddess,
I think I was coming to grief."

"Yes, maybe some comic relief
would help now."

                           "O yes!"

                                         "Or a song
to the dulcet tones of a gong
perhaps—from the Sacred Psalmody."

"I think I'd prefer the comedy."

"All right, then: remember the story
I promised back there in that dory
of yours that I'd tell you?...It's long
though....Sure you don't want a song?"

"No, the story—to silence that Babel
of voices I heard."

                             "A fable
then, Sam, about simpler creatures—
which shows some enduring features
of life—and nicely sums
our disputes between Bennies and Bums:

"One day the Almighty Shaper
made a world of a strip of paper,
a world on the simplest footing.
He did this, Samson, by putting,
one on each side, two flies.
With a bizz each opened his eyes—
can you guess what they felt?"

                                              "Was it awe?"

"They were glad, Sam. Each of them saw
a world without wrinkle or crease
that was clearly all of a piece
and felt with a prickle of pride
that his was the only side.
Could any thought have been queerer,
they asked, than that—as in a mirror—
a world was in back of theirs
opposing them unawares?
God moved them to think of this
to disturb their papery bliss,
but both just scratched their pods
and rejected this notion of God's—
Who of course felt rather unnerved
and piqued at them both.

                                       "So He curved
and connected their strip, like a collar,
and made each fly a scholar.
I've heard that He even (although it's
debatable) made them poets.

"To the inner fly (clearly no dunce)
the whole world appeared at once,
all neatly defined by a border.
He developed a taste for order.
He found that whenever held dally,
he was down in a comfortable valley
with a universe curving above
to be fully cognizant of.
No need to travel much
for him, to taste, to touch,
to smell, to clamber and climb:
he could see the All all the time.
So it seemed to this fly quite enough
to become 'intellectually tough,'
that is, to exert his talents
for noticing symmetry, balance,
and such: the world as a myth,
you know: the brainy pith
of the thing, the allegory.

"But he didn't much care for a story.
Their meanings were often obscure,
and he liked his meanings pure
and stated matter-of-factly
in rhymes that were metered exactly.
A poem must establish its limits,
he felt, and nothing must dim its
coherent and balanced progression
and tough and intense compression.
From this he quickly surmised
the short poems most to be prized,
as the long ones were far too diffuse.
He didn't go on to deduce
(it's a pity) that poems compressed
into nothing at all were the best;
but he did get his so compact
that they made you sense what they lacked:
bodies. His disciplining
left each with a clear beginning,
plain ending, but nothing between.
Any changes of tone or scene,
the fall of a voice or its rise,
or the deftly prepared surprise
that gives you a taste, a seasoning,
would have spoiled his tight-lipped reasoning
and made the progression erratic.
So the poems of this fly weren't dramatic,
but kept the same even tone,
the same monotonous drone
of solemn important brooding
till, Samson, you'd end by concluding
that this intellectual toughie
was actually rather stuffy.

"For the outer fly life was as weird.
Most of his world disappeared,
and giving a terrified buzz,
he ran to find where it was,
and running, his thousand eyes
found life a constant surprise.
His travels were wild and erratic.
His statements were always emphatic,
but seldom, if ever, consistent,
for his past became nonexistent,
or easy, at least, to ignore
as he hurried on before
and could see so little behind
and had always to focus his mind
on the scroll of paper appearing
a little way off and nearing
and passing beneath his feet.
There was nothing it phased him to meet,
but he couldn't bear to sit still.
His world was a constant hill,
you see, and whenever he'd stop,
he seemed to be still at the top,
yet with hardly a thing to be seen;
so onward held have to careen:
he had to keep going and going
as his only method of knowing.

"But he soon got accustomed to this
and found not the least bit amiss
in a world so shifting and cluttered.
'That's life,' he indignantly muttered
and was all for jumbled sensation
and cared not a crumb for relation;
for he never saw things together,
so it never disturbed him whether
they were neatly together or not.
A story, say, with a plot
was not at all to his taste:
it was life that had to be faced,
and life was just confusion
and order dishonest illusion.
So he faced it in rapid succession
in one overwhelming digression,
and he spent his lifetime spinning
one poem without end or beginning,
one monstrous insoluble riddle
in which there was nothing but middle.

"But in some ways they both were the same.
As flies, they frowned on a game,
on laughter, and on the employment
of speech for vulgar enjoyment.
Each felt that his world's depravity
needed both him and his gravity.
Each thought, 'What a hideous world.
How badly it's warped and curled.'
And now and then one of them sat
and remembered a world that was flat:
a world, thought one, less bounded
than this, with which I'm surrounded,
where sometimes I almost feel caught;
or a world, the other fly thought,
with more distance beyond me to see in
that I don't feel so dreadfully free in.
But each concluded at last
that his present derived from his past,
and to solve the apparent mystery,
composed a little history
in which it was brilliantly shown
that the only world was his own.

"Then God said, 'It's time, I discern,
for these two queer flies to learn
with a frustrated buzz and bizz
what a one-sided world really is.'

"So He cut through their ring with a snip
and, holding both ends of the strip,
with a wryly mischievous frown
turned one end upside-down,
so its outside now faced in.
Then His frown turned into a grin,
and looking decidedly gay,
he stuck them together that way.
Then the flies went creeping about:
but the inside ran into the out,
and the outside now crossed to the in
in a way the world never had been.
You see: both sides became one.

"Did they see what The Trickster had done,
and seizing this fine opportunity,
grasp the Cosmic Unity?
That's what they'd grasped all along;
but now there was something wrong.
The first found regions convexed
where he barely could see what was next,
and the second saw countries concaved
and simply went mad and raved.

"Both suspected the world had been cursed;
and they shortly discovered the worst:
each other—and cried out in terror,
'He's not really there. He's an error!'
and the first fly rushed to define
their difference by means of a line
which he pricked and stitched and engraved
where convex became concaved.
That helped; but the second went mad
completely, and God was so sad
that He let His latest endeavor
flutter down spaces forever.

"Now Samson, wasn't that tragic?
Those flies had missed the magic
in God's little world, which hides
invisibly opposite sides
yet remains indissolubly single—
two sides that were able to mingle
and become by miraculous growth
one side that included them both."

She ended; and for my applause
I playfully clapped my paws,
not loudly, because they were padded.
Then I thought for a moment and added,
"Those flies and their scholarly fames
deserve at least having names.
How about that, clever contriver?"

"Let's see, Sam. Let's call them Yvor
and Ezra. But swear by your hoary
whiskers you relished my story."

"O better than spinach and beans."

"But I'll bet you don't know what it means."

"Do you?"

                "Well I've heard a rumor
that the crux of the thing is humor.
Tell you what: let's visit a hermit
who knows the meaning. We'll worm it
out of him."

                  "Maybe he's busy.
He's not a scholar, is he?"

"O no. He communes with his soul
all day in a resonant hole,
his own strategic retreat
where two rocks almost meet.
His cave runs deep to the north,
but he sits boldly forth
exposed in its open mouth
with a steadfast gaze to the south.
His immortality nears,
they say. For years and years
his reputation's been bruited
about. Before you're transmuted
into your final fiction,
you'll need his benediction."

He didn't live far, it seemed.
I heard through the fog that streamed
about us the slop of a wave
below as we entered his cave.

"Talk loudly," she whispered, "He's hard
of hearing."

                As fatty as lard
and as white, the hermit sat
on a lemon peel squashed out flat
at the entrance. He seemed immersed
in thought...

                  "But let him speak first."

The hairs on his bushy brows
hung down like swamp rushes, dry
with age. But soon one eye,
half hidden as if in guile,
peeked out like a crocodile.

"This the candidate?
he looks all right. You're late
though. I'm just getting ready to sup,
then sleep. What held you up?"

"Phyllis was speaking of humor."

"That so? Yes, fate must doom her
to tell us those endless stories.
Was this about karma, the glories
of Heaven, or psychic modalities?"

"No, humor and hidden realities—
unity, God The Shaper,
and flies on a piece of paper."

"O yes, the Moebius strip.
She spun it all out from a quip
I made about how the one Tree
of Life that we knew was a country
growth and our one opportunity
still to find any unity
under our foggy skies.
Then 'unity' led to those flies
who failed to make connections
with their own reversed reflections...."

"What's the trouble..." I said.

"What say?" He tilted his head,
"Talk louder."

                     "What's the trouble
with creatures who can't see double?"

"O they knew their world two-sided
before they even collided,
but both were too frightened to credit
ridiculous voices that said it
inside them. They'd never heard
of a meaning in something absurd.
They both had to be so real,
don't you know. They couldn't feel
those things from the opposite side
that sanity struggles to hide.
You need both logic and weaning
from logic to feel such a meaning.
You need deftness. Your solemn prober
of things today's too sober."

"Then the story means..."

                                      "It's a font
of meanings. It means what you want.
Some even make allegations
it's all about warring nations.
It's about detachment, you know,
detachment and how things grow.
The Darwinians say we evolved
by being always involved
in a struggle. That can't be denied,
of course; but it's only one side.
They don't seem to say much about
how a species first sets out.
Just think of an egg being hatched:
it's the chick in it coming detached
from a life become confinement.
It's breaking out of alignment
with all that it knew before.
But some of us try to ignore
the Heaven out there or the Hell
that flashes outside the shell
we've all in our dread constructed
to keep our growth obstructed....
Take you:"

                 The eye half free
of the swamp rushes fixed on me.

"You broke from that tunnel that hid you
in darkness, you think—or did you?
If you ask me, you still look groggy
—or glum—or befuddled."

                                         "It's foggy."

"Yes isn't it."

                    "I'm feeling depressed
with things here."

                          "That's what I guessed."

"I'm feeling rather annoyed
that everything's blank and void."

"You ought to be overjoyed.
You're free."

                    "Phyllis said I don't care
any more."

                  "She did, eh? Where
was your snout before you were born
or conceived?...Don't look so forlorn
if you say you don't care. Fatigue, O
fatigue. O the weighty ego.
The fly walked round and round,
but himself was all that he found."

"Why was it that neither fly flew,"
I asked, "and discovered..."

                                           "Do you
use your wings," the hermit replied,
"and fly to your unseen side?"

I stared.

              He growled. "It seems
the best we can do is have dreams."

"Are dreams important?"

                                      "O vastly."

"I've had one."

                       "How was it?"

                                              "Ghastly."

"Yes, what shall we do, we bearers
of locked-in mortal terrors?"

"Release them, free them!" said Phyllis.

"Yes, isn't that so. They'd kill us,
wouldn't they?...Only one way with them:
keep them unreal, but play with them.
That's art....It's not the behavior
of the average modern savior
today though. All the tourists
who come now have to be purists,
it seems. Each gets his tooth
in a poor little morsel of truth
and thinks he's swallowed the world."

His great lips puffed and curled
with anger. "They husband their powers,
now don't they? Their broken towers
in broken verses—not many,
God bless us. There's that Benny...."

"O Benny! Poor Benny's pawful
of poems..." said Phyllis.

                                     "Yes awful,
aren't they," the hermit answered.
"His style's so sick and so cancered
with modish fatigue and so bloated
with God knows what that he's quoted."

"But his lines have a pleasant flow,"
I ventured, "a songlike..."

                                       "NO!"
roared the hermit.

                           "His lines just chill us.
You can't understand them," said Phyllis.
"I can't," she chirped, growing blither,
can you, Sir?"

                      "No I can't either."

"And those dreadful Dharma Bums...."

"Well, Phyllis, they're what comes
of your freedom. The times grow dark.
But Youth still leaves its mark
in great proud letters for all
to read on the outhouse wall."

"But Sir: their spontaneity,
vigor, despairing gaiety...."

"They've yet to write something passable."

"Be careful, Sam, he's irascible."

"What say, Phyllis?...Soon they'll be dated.
They're all just spirits translated
out here in their states of samadhi
(if that's what they call it). The body
of each of  'em's still up the sewer
entranced. I've seen no fewer
than twenty here all at once
all a-gibber and proud of their stunts
and their states of—what's it, satori
now? All just the same old story:
their bodies lack vital juice
—or else sinew—and so they come loose
from the world. Every year in a file
they line up and change their style,
and call me a stick-in-the-mud.
What's life without flesh and blood?...
How long since I came to these rocks
here astride of a cardboard box
like a blood-sodden spirit black
and wild on a dolphin's back?
I forget. It makes me chortle.
I'm so old now, I'm almost immortal."

My heart gave a leap. "Ahoy,
old father!" I shouted with joy,
"Guess what? I've managed to grope
out here in an envelope."

"That so? Where's your body at?"

"In a boat..."

                    "What new state's that?"

"I'm alive, I'm alive!" I cried.

Had he heard me? It seemed that he eyed
me with scorn.

                       "If you'd take my advice,
you Beat-ups and Angry Young Mice
would learn some pleasanter manners.
In my time you'd go to the tanner's
for acting like that."

                              "Like what?"
I asked him curtly.

                            "One cut
does the job, you know. Peltiplasty
it's called."

                 "Sam don't make him nasty."

"That tanner, you know. He loves
to fashion mouse pelts into gloves
real ladies can wear to a party.
Do you know what I'm saying, you arty
misfits? Go spill some more ink
in disputes. I sometimes think
what we need in these rocks and damps
is a few concentration camps.
You think I'm cruel. A pup
like you needs stirring up."

"I'm alive!"

                 "You said that. Don't blink so."

"But I am!"

               "What makes you think so?"

"I've slipped from the bowels of the earth...."

"That's death. But maybe the birth
was beyond you. People like you
can't seem to get born anew."

He turned to my guide: "Well, Phyllis,
we've heard you're a goddess. Chill us
with verity; don your regality
and tell him the dreadful reality."

"Well, Samson, perhaps as you feel
already, you're not quite real..."

"O Phyllis, come on, take hold!"
cried the hermit. "That's chatty."

                                               She rolled
her eyes back into her head,
and sounding like someone half dead,
she moaned:

                    "O heavy derision:
you, who have seen me in vision,
refused—finding few things sweet in
the world—to eat or be eaten
in life, yet longed to exist,
for anger and Karmic Mist
beclouded you, mocking your thirst
for release. You have therefore been cursed
with that most monstrous of curses:
to exist, but only in verses."

"O Goddess..."

                         "Some call it a glory..."

"My Goddess..."

                            "...to live in story,
in rhymes, and nowhere else."

"But Goddess, I'm solid. My pelt's
still furry. Feel how it's wet
with the fog. I can feel things...sweat...
can taste things...even beget
little mice...I think...you aren't certain?"

"You're here till the fall of your curtain.
You've made your life a picture,
an image. The mother who licked your
ears, Old Nick who taught you,
your whimpering Jenny who caught you,
all merely reflect something deeper:
you're your dream of yourself, and the sleeper
who dreams you has drunk from the cup
of oblivion."

                    "Wake him up!"

"You cannot come any nearer
to him than a bird in a mirror
can come to the bird it reflects,
at which it futilely pecks."

"But my Goddess!"

                              "Don't squeak with annoyance,"
said the hermit, "when moods of clairvoyance
attend her. She gets into states
like that from reading her Yeats."

"Then, Sir, I'm really unreal...."

"Yes, yes, beyond repeal."

"I'm dead then...."

                            "Yes, isn't it drear."

"But where's the real life of me?"

                                                 "Here."

"Why—why don't I find it?"

                                          "Your mind,
your self-image, makes you blind.
We're all our original authors,
obsessed little me-makers, frothers
of words."

                 "If just being me
blinds me, what can you see?"

"As long as there's 'me' or there's 'you,'
real life is never in view."

"If we cease to exist, is it found?"

"Who finds it then? No one's around."

"My mind...I'm spinning...confusion."

"THROW OFF YOUR BONDS OF ILLUSION!"

"I try to..."

                 "Don't bother. The gist
of our trouble's we think we exist
and do, just the same. You lose me,
I fear. You'll have to excuse me.
It's time I went to my upper
shelf and had some supper—
and I'm tired of talking in rhyme.
Come back again some time."

He lurched to the wall on the right,
took hold, and climbed out of sight.

"That hermit...he's rather abrupt."

"He might come back when he's supped.
shall we wait, Sam?"

                                "No."

                                          We left
and climbed through a winding cleft
in the rocks. It was strange: both he
and Old Nick had mentioned a tree.
But how would I get to know a tree
with all this talk about poetry?

"Phyllis," I said with a frown,
"I feel that you've let me down."

"Now Samson, try not to worry
about it...."

                 "Don't sound so purry
and pleasant." (My voice sounded stony.)
"Phyllis, I think you're a phony."

"Of course, Sam."

                            "You're this, you're that.
I never know where I'm at.
You talk like a schoolgirl sometimes,
then get holy and say I'm just rhymes
and croon like a toad in a trance.
You can keep all your pious chants.
You can—where do you come from?"

                                                          "Your brain,
dear mouse."

                     "You give me a pain."

"Of course. I'm the sisters and wives
you've had in your previous lives.
I'm a figment, a fey composite
of troupes of ghosts in your closet,
who may be more nicely defined
as devas deep in your mind
who, now that you're hopping about
by the ocean, are all popping out
like seeds exposed to the sun,
budding up in you, one by one,
by laws of psychic causality."

"O nuts. You're a dreadful reality."

"Dreadful?" she asked, looking strange,
"All right, then, Samson, I'll change."

I looked up startled—then peered
into space. She'd just disappeared.

I sighed and sat on a stone.
So, so. I'd live here alone...
live here in this foggy infinite?
No flesh, no blood, no lymph in it....
Dead like the rest of them, worn
to a shadow. Being reborn
was beyond me. Lost. Was there any
way back into life—to my Jenny?
It all seemed so good now, so fresh:
those genuine joys of the flesh....
And Dugan there...life in a drain...
chopped tails, loud litters, inane
hypocrisies, bogus convictions....
Better these honest fictions,
this impotence, empty of thought,
decayed in body, caught
up and whirled among spirits, imps
of nightmare. O for a glimpse
of the sun!...Will this fog never clear?
No: because I fear
blue sky, fear breaking this shell
that encloses me, this—this Hell.

What were we? Nothings, lispers
of nothings, voices, whispers....

"Samson!"

                "What?"

                             "Come see me."

"I can't. This air's too steamy."

"I'm right back here in the hazes."

She sounded different. My gazes
searched for her, found her—faltered.
The goddess had strangely altered.
Sweet Isles! O spaces beyond!
Her fur was a golden blond
now in place of the moony white
that tempted me out of the night.
She was thin as a stripling, and all her
features were sharper and smaller—
except for her mouth with its rows
of gappy teeth and her nose,
her magnificent nose, coming out
of her face so proudly: a snout
for a queen. And I heard how her voice
had changed to a clipped yet choice
intonation:

                "Samson, you're fonder
of goddesses now that I'm blonder
and smaller, aren't you?"

                                     It tinkled
like lutes to hear her. It wrinkled
the innermost folds of my being
to happy convulsions. Just seeing
her seemed an enchantment. (I missed her
resemblance now to my sister
and that look of an addled elf
that reminded me so of myself.)

"Where's Phyllis?" I asked.

                                         "As you see,
she's gone. She's turned into me.
She's returned to that smelly old basement
you lived in, and I'm the replacement.
Do you like me?"

                          "O mouse, your pigment's
a marvel....You're all just figments
though, aren't you? Your varied seductions
all merely my mental constructions.
It's something I've started to feel."

"Look, Samson, that's why we're real.
Appearances don't deceive,
only things you invent and believe."

"You mean, then, I'm not just verse?"

"Remember your Genevieve's curse
when you left her? I'm meaner and rougher
than she was. Perhaps you'll suffer."

I looked at her, feeling glum.

"Here, Samson, have some of my plum.
It's good. I love to crush
the sweet and fragrant mush
of its meat between my teeth
and suck out the seeds underneath.
Here, try it. You'll find it's delicious."

"You'll curse me. You know that I'm vicious."

"No I like you, Samson. You're strange
and original. Frightened of change,
I'd say. Stop trying to bail your
boat when you know it's a failure."

"A failure? I think..."

                               "Don't think,
don't talk. Just let it sink.
Forget it and sit down with me
eating plums here under this tree."

"This tree?"

                  "Yes, right up there."

But I gazed at her rich yellow hair,
her brown eyes moving in flashes
under their darker lashes
that flicked sometimes—sweet friskers—
and her beautiful soot-black whiskers.
Had I seen any creature before?
I wanted to kneel and adore
—then wildly to leap upon—
this gorgeous phenomenon.

"Up there in the fog—right above you."

"O mouse of gold, I love you."

"Well you see, there's fertile ground
in these rocks that a seed has found."

The fog was curling and spinning
in wisps but seemed to be thinning
above us. In bits I saw
what seemed like an intricate claw
that gripped at the swirls of the air.
I thought of my drab gray hair.
O I seemed like a monster beside her.

"It looks like a giant spider,"
I said.

         "You need more romance
in you, Samson. You need to dance
in the rocks and gullies, jog
and hop up and down in the fog.
I do. Just look at my foot:
how it's dirty."

                     "Sweet creature...I put
my paw on her leg.

                             "Sam, shame
on you, stop that....Ask me my name."

"Your body—it feels so juicy."

"Sam ask it!"

                    "Well what is it?"

                                               "Lucy."

"O Lucy, I've gotten so fond of you,
I'm longing to make a great pond of you
and jump in and vanish forever."

"You'd be out soon enough."

                                             "No never!"

She smoothed her royal fur.
"You'd rather just be who you were
and study your states of samadhi."

"Sweet Lucy, I want your body,
your belly, your paws."

                                    She eyed
me gravely, then grinned and replied,
"No you want me to be your muse,
so I think..."

                   "Don't think!"

                                        "...I'll refuse."

But she didn't. Ye Gods! We cavorted
beneath that tree, transported
to God knows where—to crowds
of angels above the clouds,
to the Spheres there, tinkling sweetly—
O out of this world completely.
To think a bewildering minute
could cram such lifetimes in it....
But alas, the minute abated.
I gasped for breath and waited,
stretched out in the darkening void,
for satiety, sorrowful, cloyed...."

"Well, Samson, I've been immodest,
my dear. But now you've been goddessed,
haven't you?"

                    "Yes, my sprightly."

"Sam dear, you must sleep with me nightly."

There is no sad satiety
when you copulate with a deity.
Sweet flesh!...It rose there and then,
and I mounted my Lucy again.
O indefatigable member:
again and again the ember
of love kept flashing and sparking
and sending us heavenward larking.
How could these fogs contrive
such a creature? Was she alive?

She must be. I'd seen, I could feel it:
as alive as the soil or the sea lit
with sunlight....

                      But slowly the glimmer
and gloom of day became dimmer,
drowsier. Night was falling.
It seemed I heard her calling
from far away, warm beside me:

"I'm the broom of the moon, come ride me."

It rang through the foggy deep
of my brain as I sank into sleep....

"Samson, wake up! See the stars."

Among the knotted spars
of the branches, which creaked in a breeze,
I saw them: like luminous fleas
in their millions, silent and bright,
in the blue-black pelt of the night.

"But where's the moon, my pet?"

"There's a new moon, Sam, and it's set."

"Those stars, Lucy, there in their pool
of darkness—they look so cool."

"Yes, Samson, cooler than tears."

"Could we roll their tiny spheres
in our paws if we went up among them,
palm their sparkles and tongue them?"

"Samson, I'm floating up there."

"You're what?"

                        "...in a burnt-out flare.
I dreamed that I lived among gods
who sent me. They feared that the odds
were against my jigger of dust
surviving the terrible thrust
of the rising rocket: absorb it
and live till I got into orbit.
But I went, withstood the ascension,
and now in another dimension..."

"Lucy, don't say you're a ghost."

"No a goddess; and I was the toast
of a nation for almost a week.
By the millions they heard my squeak
sent down from my own transmitter."

"But I thought that we might have a litter...."

She sighed. "How can I, spun
as I am with the moon, the sun,
and the planets up there? As I race
through the cold dark glitter of space
and time, I can see your face,
so comical, angry, and queer...."

"But Lucy, you're right down here
in my paws on this fertile ground."

"Yes, Sam, rolled round and round
with rocks and stones and trees."

"But you're here, Lucy, here! O please!"

She stirred there, a shadow, and thirst
overcame me. Once more I immersed
myself in her flesh—O fruity
depths! O my starlit beauty!
My whole being seemed exhumed
in ecstasy....

                   "Samson, you're doomed,"
said a voice. But I tasted the tang
of her flesh on me still, and I sang:

"This airy body that shivers
in mine delivers
me up.
I pant
to drink this cup
dry. And can't.

"She dances on dirty rocks,
and her flocks
of fragrance are sweet,
but sweeter her dirty feet.

"Immersed in her ignorant hair,
can I bear
its knowledge? Her laws
are magic. Her plucking paws
have reached inside me
and plied me,

"till Samson's a pot-bellied lyre
afire
with music. And chords undiminished..."

But I left the song unfinished
and fell away back into sleep
with the booming rocks and the sweep
of the sea in my ears, and the gleam
of the stars in my—were they a dream?

But the blue sky woke me, cleared
of all hazes, burned away, seared
in a world of sunlight. I peered
out over the opened expanse
of the water: an elfin dance
of waves in the breezes, level
and blue, a rippled dishevel,
a twinkling starlike swarming
of elements, formed, reforming
in endless harmonious motion.
Sweet Heaven. So this was the ocean.

And Lucy, more gold than the water,
lay near, where the sunlight had caught her
asleep and dreaming. Its shine
on her dazzled me. O—was she mine?
Who'd take her? I looked around.
The tree-trunk rose from the ground
on guard, but behind it I saw
—what was it? It filled me with awe,
real awe, Reader, think of it: me.
Another dancing sea
was behind there, and minute by minute
it changed as the other, but in it
dark shadows moved at a stately
pace, and beyond them—how greatly
it rose to the sky, with the towers,
the twinkles, the hums, the powers
all scoffed at by Dugan's committee—
I saw it: The Heavenly City.

"Lucy!"

            "Sam?"

                         "Awake?"

"I am now."

                   "There over the lake..."

"It's a harbor."

                       "Those towers with gildings
of sunlight and windows..."

                                         "They're buildings."

"There seem such a lot of them."

                                                  "Wads."

"But Lucy, who lives in them?"

                                               "Gods."

"You mean, as the fables tell?"

"That's right, I know it well.
It's a strange place, Samson, and bitter.
Try not to be drawn by its glitter.
Look up at the tree with the pretty
buds. Don't look at that city."

"Lucy, no matter how much it
costs, I have to touch it.
Just once."

                 "That's all you'll need.
One touch, and I'm sure you'll be freed
of your longings forever."

                                       "Yes!"

"O Samson...one little caress
before we set out to it."

                                    "No!"

"Aw Samson!"

                       "Lucy, let's go!"

"Aw Sam, wait a moment, can't you?
Let's have some breakfast. I'll chant you
a song—just one little song
while we eat won't hurt."

                                      "Art's long,
and time, O my Lucy, is fleeting.
And I can't stand music with eating,
or eating with music—detestable.
It makes them both indigestible."

"But all I meant was a song,
Sam. Maybe you hear the wrong
kind of music."

                       "The dance of the spirit..."

"The dance of the bodies that hear it
and make it. Come on, then, let's go."

"Wait, Lucy, wait!"

                             "You'll row
us, Samson?" Her voice sounded dull
and saddened.

                      "No, I'll scull
with my tail. My boat's by the rocks."

We found it, and soon her locks
of gold shone high in the bow
where she sat. I cried out, "Now!"
and shoved us away.

                                Overjoyed
I noticed we seemed to be buoyed
by something. Lucy? Of course:
her litheness, the up-rising force
in her body that made me rise
in the night like a star to the skies
was lifting us up in the water.
Some magic the starlight had taught her
was making us fairly prance
out into the harbor's expanse.

"Float, Samson, give up all sifting
of thoughts, all hopes. You're drifting
attached to nothing, unthinking.
Only your fears of sinking
and dread of the ocean's thunder
can make you swamp and go under."

I watched her, my Lucy, the one light
and focus of all that sunlight
and geysering bubbling change,
and felt something new and strange:
a riding with ease on the waves
with a body at peace that craves
only the vision before it,
nor fears, nor needs to ignore it,
but openly, joyously faces
those overwhelming spaces
of earthless, bottomless Nil
that at last he has dared to fill
and driven out death unaware
by being so endlessly there.

Wide Heaven! It seemed I had wings.
The invisible forces of things,
the sigh of the waves, the gasp
of their chasms, were in my grasp,
and this—ah this was Nirvana!

"Here, Samson, have some banana.
It's good." She sank her snoot
in a piece of the yellowish fruit.
"Don't let your mystic totalities
distract you from present realities.
The dark of ancestral night
will come soon enough. Have a bite."

"You mean something can happen still?"

"My dear, I'm afraid something will,
the thing most decisive of all."

When she said that, I noticed a pall
of darkness, a monstrous wall,
rising up in the eastern sky
like a visage, impossibly high
and frowning, huger and grosser
each minute, still coming closer,
and making the ocean splash
and foam in a mammoth moustache.

The envelope started to rock,
anticipating the shock.
O I thought you were safe and snug, boat!

"That's it!" Lucy cried. "It's a tugboat,
Sam!"

         Did she think I should thank her
the bloody boat wasn't a tanker
or freighter?

                  "This sea's getting rough,"
I cried. "A tugboat's enough!"

We rose, danced wildly about
in the glitter.

                  Then day blotted out
and I heard a chthonian booming
and worlds of waters spuming
and roaring up over my ears....

Then consciousness, hopes, and fears
all vanished...and I was at peace.
At last my longed-for release
from the world—though a bit unexpected
just then—was neatly effected:
a tugboat by deities manned
was my touch of the Promised Land.

But Reader, do I or do you see
what might have become of my Lucy?
Does she of the sun-bright locks
still charm those foggy rocks,
or does she circle up here
in some other Heavenly Sphere?
No matter. The Golden Fleece
has been lost. As I say, I'm at peace:
a Seraph-mouse mounted on high
in the silent desireless sky.

And what have I left behind?
I fear that the hunters will find
on earth no mice, no creatures,
who bear daddy Samson's features;
but they'll find something nevertheless:
a little memento to bless
their existence with meaning and hope:
O emptied envelope,
which—now that nothing better
affords—I fill with this letter
to life, my epic in rhyme
and libation to earth and to time:
O envelope, soon run aground,
return, unaddressed, and be found;
Ah, now that my pelt is no more,
stick fast to a distant shore,
while here among constellations
far from all peoples, nations,
gods—from all that decay
that torments the night and day—
in the latest angelic cars
I traffic with all of the stars.