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.
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.