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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)

  • Nature
  • Relationships

Poet Bio

Jane Kenyon
Raised in the Midwest, Jane Kenyon later lived with her husband, poet Donald Hall, on a farm in New Hampshire. In 1993 Bill Moyers made an Emmy award-winning documentary about the literary couple called “A Life Together.” Author of four collections of poetry, Kenyon was the poet laureate of New Hampshire at the time of her death from leukemia at age 47. See More By This Poet

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