Mice by Luba Ostashevsky

The Mice

We say, “quiet as a mouse,” but can it be as loud?
Low squeaks from the kitchen eat at me.
I walked in on one fidgeting stovetop,
between the fingers of the burner grate,
scraping at the food caked to the enamel.

I froze. It dove behind the control panel
flickering its hairless tail above the range.
A loud rumble through the oven and a bang
as though the metal trays inside bounced up,
clanked, then fell back rearranged.

Morning revenge. Poo in paisley shapes
over the dishtowel and cutting board
dissolve into liquid as black as rodent eyes.
I wipe them down, turning my nose away.
The gamey smell makes my skin chap.

I share my apartment with mousetraps
laid out like guillotines. How many times
have I heard, you consent to what you tolerate?!
Bits of pasta or broccoli dropped daily
between the stove and counter like manna.

It’s a crisis when we meet.
I stomp on the floor or knock on the wall.
They scurry to make their small selves smaller.
On tiptoe, I move the pots to a higher shelf.
I stoop to sprinkle poison along the kitchen border.

Out of sight, they occupy my mind.
I imagine a mischief of them dragging the core
of the Granny Smith I had cut the night before
across the counter. Their salt ‘n pepper pelts
bead with sweat excreted from their pores.

They are at ease here.
In overheated September, I saw a baby emerge,
its grey skin showing through the short fur,
while I worried about my baby,
six hours away and adjusting to dorm life.

Now I get to walk around the house without a bra.
Silence gives the softer sounds a chance to roam.
The squeaks amplify in percussion.
I know they’re somewhere in the kitchen.
I wonder what part they’re calling home.

Luba Ostashevsky teaches chemistry at a high school in northern Brooklyn. Her verse has been published in OrbisNewtown Literary Review, New Engagement and Broad River Review; and fiction in the Cortland Review. She lives in Queens, NY.