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  • Cover Your Ears; Don’t Listen to This Poem (An Invitation)

    My daughter calls from another room; she’s found a family dead.
    All dead, all but one small baby hidden among the bedding. I find a family
    dead in my room too, leaving another orphaned baby.

    Cover your ears! Don’t listen to this poem. My poetry teachers told me,
    don’t say that. Don’t mention you’re writing a poem. As if the reader,
    dear reader, won’t notice. And don’t, whatever you do, they warned,

    say anything weird. "Over the top," they would say. There are rules
    in poetry. I always seem to break them. Perhaps I also shouldn’t mention
    that I am writing this on red

    paper. Blood red. I snatched it from the recycle bin, coincidence
    or synchronicity. By the time you hear this, though, the red
    will have turned to white the way a face loses color in death.

    Two families dead, two orphaned babies. But they aren't people.
    We’re in the animal-care rooms in the museum’s basement.
    The babies are mice, one tan, one maroon, both just starting

    on the first hint of hair, eyes sealed shut. Orphaned.
    Of course, they will die without their mothers; we all know that.
    They’re not weaned. Weeks must pass before solids.

    I’m an orphan now; I see parallels. But I’m sixty-six,
    and my parents both died at eighty-three. No infant, I, but I long
    for comfort. It’s circular, really, since I’m also a mother.

    I put the babies in my blouse to nurse from my own breasts.
    Could you just plug your ears? I know you’ll disapprove,
    but that’s what I did. In the dream, which continues playing

    inside my waking life all day, day after day, mouse babies
    grow to the size and shape of ferrets and squirm inside my silk blouse
    like snakes, undulating, sinuous. In my black velvet skirt

    and blood-red jacket, I hide myself from condemning eyes
    so these babies can nurse and live. I am the orphan baby.
    I am the snake maiden, I am the mother, the grandmother.

    I am tiny as a newborn mouse and I am the crone,
    slipping into the grave. But you knew all that already,
    knew the dual nature of my Geminian twins,

    and the yin and yang of me. Even, perhaps, the strange depths
    to which I’d sink to survive this grief. Please, don’t point and laugh.
    Remember, instead, that you

    have a breast and milk, of sorts, comfort, you could offer an orphan.
    If, miraculously, you’re still listening, if by any chance, you understand
    this odd place where I stand, you could reach out and hold me.

    Mary Stebbins Taitt
    for my parents, Margaret and Joe, and my daughter Erin, who joined me in the dream at the MOST.
    written after my mother died (my father died first).

    The illo is a quick self-portrait sketch I made when I was thinner and younger. It's me as a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of this poem. I'm actually planning to read it today! AK!
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