Not Here By Jane Kenyon

Searching for pillowcases trimmed   
with lace that my mother-in-law
once made, I open the chest of drawers   
upstairs to find that mice
have chewed the blue and white linen   
dishtowels to make their nest,
and bedded themselves
among embroidered dresser scarves   
and fingertip towels.

Tufts of fibers, droppings like black   
caraway seeds, and the stains of birth   
and afterbirth give off the strong   
unforgettable attar of mouse
that permeates an old farmhouse   
on humid summer days.

A couple of hickory nuts
roll around as I lift out
the linens, while a hail of black
sunflower shells
falls on the pillowcases,
yellow with age, but intact.
I’ll bleach them and hang them in the sun   
to dry. There’s almost no one left
who knows how to crochet lace....   

The bright-eyed squatters are not here.   
They’ve scuttled out to the fields   
for summer, as they scuttled in
for winter—along the wall, from chair   
to skirted chair, making themselves   
flat and scarce while the cat
dozed with her paws in the air,
and we read the mail
or evening paper, unaware.

Jane Kenyon, “Not Here” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Constance: Poems (Graywolf Press, 1993)

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