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Stephanie McCarley Dugger

Behind the Ticking

The first winter in our first

                house,          we lost the furnace

        and then the water heater.        In the closet, 

     a perfect hole in the floor 

let in mice,        one

          after another after another.

We set traps,        a circle

               of them          with the mouse

hole in the center—         an altar.

                   The traps filled 

instantly,        snap after snap,        then we emptied

                      the circle and began again.

We were young       and didn’t know. 

                                          In my childhood 

home,        the mice 

                were so rampant        we didn’t bother

to try.        Picking up a shirt

        from the floor        or opening a kitchen

cabinet        sent them hurrying

    for new cover.        We had a dozen cats,

                 lean and wild,        outside 

to catch the mice  

           in the barn, corn crib, garden,         

       but no means of control

            inside.        Their mouse sounds—    

in the attic       under my bed—     just behind 

the ticking of the clock my parents received 

      as a wedding gift,        steady and insistent

                       in the angry heat of the house. 

                               The clock had a key 

under the pendulum       that we used 

              to wind it back to life 

            when it stopped        every three weeks.        

We didn’t notice

                   the tick-tock cease until night,

             everyone in bed,        the stiff hands

      silent,        and the mice-feet whisper

                 now loud and clear.

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Stephanie McCarley Dugger’s first collection of poetry, Either Way You’re Done (2017) , was published by Sundress Publications. Her chapbook, Sterling (Paper Nautilus, 2015), was winner of the Vella Chapbook contest. Her essays and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Baltimore Review, Mid-American Review, Poet Lore, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and other journals. She teaches at Austin Peay State University and is Poetry Editor for Zone 3 Journal.

Bear Review


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