It’s not a cartoon, yet the main character
seems to be a courageous mouse, a clean
and ingenious rodent who dares beyond
the thatched breastworks of his nest,
out of his clutch of dry grasses into
the real and dangerous world.
I open the scale box as he leaps
to the ruled beam and disappears like
a fireman down the connecting rod
onto the long arms that will hold fat
steers suspended in air, above the small
rattler curled asleep in the dark cool.
He starts back up the rusty rod, poking
his nose through the square hole of the box
as I sweep his home aside with the cobwebs,
leaving nothing to impede the full swing
of the scale beam. He watches as I oil
the sliding counterweights that have measured
a life’s work: each May weighing the season’s
grass harvested from hills since before I was
born – he hangs there twitching whiskers,
but every third draft, moves back into the box
as I balance, trading-out his high-rise rent
just like the generations before us.
January 1, 2008: One of the interesting aspects of publishing early drafts of poetry online is the ongoing editing after the fact. Knowing full well that not every piece is a keeper and not satisfied with this one, I considered deleting the entry altogether at one point during our busy, but delightful, holidays with family. Generally deaf to suggestions from others in this regard, I received the following as part of an email:
Wow. This verse so sounds like you. And yet!?! It sounds of a new voice too. I’m not articulate or knowledgeable enough to have a clue why, but it does. Every day I’ve snuck back to reread it a couple of times as I do my daily internet stuff.
Today in the savoring, it hit me that I’ve been reading about your mouse starting with the third stanza. Huh? So I paused to pay attention, and questioned the habit. While this is just the thought of one errant broad in Reno . . . . For me the verse really holds up beautifully without the opening commentary. And, I’m tempted to wonder of the title being just “The Weight.”
I have posted the original version in the ‘continued’ section below for anyone interested in where we started. She is right about drop-kicking the first two stanzas, my early-morning warm-up lines that became separate from the poem early-on in the writing only to find their way back as part of it before I was done. My reasoning for keeping them was reinforcing the ‘conversational’ tone, perhaps the ‘new voice’ she refers to. Dropping the article, I’m sticking to the title to reinforce the make-believe partnership. The voice actually reminds me of “Cattails” published in the eponymous chapbook in 1993 and reprinted below.
Bobcat, bored with squirrel meat and Valley Quail,
watched Great Bear snag Salmon in the cobbled rapids
below the many mountain forks of the Kaweah River.
Following bones & fishtails, he schemed of how to taste
fish without getting wet. He thought to emulate
Rattlesnake's slow movement that enticed Field Mice to him.
Above the sandy cutbank where Salmon swam, dark & green,
Bobcat hung the black tuft of his long tail, teasing Salmon
to investigate & leap from the water onto the dry rocks.
Having such great fun making angry Salmon jump & churn
the water, Bobcat forgot all about eating fish. Rolling
in the willow shade with laughter, he forgot about his tail.
Babcat screamed and ran, dragging Salmon into the sand,
his pretty tail clamped tight in the sharp teeth. In pain with
tears, he begged Salmon to let go, promising not to eat him.
Salmon broke Bobcat's tail to speak, "I shall die soon
anyway to be pecked by Ravens & eaten by Raccoons, but
you, Bobcat, shall never fool anyone again with your tail."
Ashamed, Bobcat hid in the hills to hunt only at night.
And there, where the Kaweah slows below the mountains,
Salmon died to rot in the sand with Bobcat's pretty tail.
From that day since, for every child of Bobcat's children
born without tails, & for every child of Salmon's children
never spawned, here cattails first began to grow on tules.