Sleetmagazine.com

Volume 12 • Number 2 • Fall - Winter 2020

Carol Barrett

Deer Mouse

The hantavirus claimed 637 lives, aged 6 to 83, by 2013. -- CDC

 

Mass outbreaks are rare, confined
to environmental anomalies, periodic

bamboo flowering, increased rainfall.
The mice don’t die, just those they brush

against in sleep. If you sweep out
a nest, the virus rides air-borne, seizes

your throat. In California a friend looks
out at the Inyo Mountains, gurgling

snow-melt stream. He cleans out
his cabin, sloshes buckets of bleach

on table and chairs, contaminated
floors and cupboards. Already dust

from Owens Lake, toxic enough.
Alkaline salts sting his face in wind.

Near every bedstead he sets traps,
window, crack in floor, wonders

how he’ll do five weeks hence, onset
resembling flu. And now another

pretender hijacks the news. Coronavirus
plays hide-and-seek, no mouse to blame,

no spring to set. A simple sneeze
can do you in, a laugh, a shout, a grunt.

Before, we treated aching limbs
with mid-day rest, called fever down

with blue raspberry ice from Dairy Queen,
now closed. We sleep tossing coins,

tell friends how far we’ve fallen
through psyche’s trap door, how dry

the masked desert, somber dance
ahead, leave cabins to mice, not men.

Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, Drawing Lessons from Finishing Line Press, and Pansies from Sonder Press, a finalist for the 2020 Oregon Book Award in General Nonfiction. Her creative work has appeared in JAMA, Poetry International, Poetry Northwest, The Women’s Review of Books, and many other venues. A former NEA Fellow in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR.