back ~ home ~ up ~ next






The Mouse Sets Out on His Journey


Up the tunnel the round faint glimmer

of home grew smaller and dimmer—

like a moon backing out of the sky,

no one watching on earth knew why,

receding from night so sadly—

as if someone had treated her badly.

My family was there on the shore,

but visible now no more

as the dark closed in all around,

the dark into which I was bound.

And even that glimmer would go

when the current's relentless flow

had carried me down to the bend.

Was there light at the other end?

But O, how it now seemed so far,

where sunlight and moonlight are

—or are they?  (I suddenly thought)

and here I am, helplessly caught

in a stream going nowhere at all. . . .


Did I hear my mother call?

They were there—still were—in the gloom

—or were they?  You had to assume—

assume that the things about you

went right on existing without you

in a world that would still continue,

though vanished without and within you

as you wandered far and wide

in an envelope lost on the tide,

attempting to picture your past. . . .


And then it eludes you at last,

and you feel so hopeless without it

you begin in despair to doubt it

and speculate long and darkly

on theories deriving from Berkeley.

(Worse yet: when you don't know that name,

you can have those thoughts just the same.)


But you have to believe that it sleeps

in its own and your dark deeps,

in the depths of your gurgling brain

like a family of mice in a drain,

and accept this sleeping reality

in its non-existent finality—

a conception no mind can avoid

according to someone named Freud.


You had to accept the dregs

of coffee, the rotten eggs,

the spinach, the peas, and the beans,

and the other assorted greens,

and the morsels of tainted meat

swept down from an unknown street . . .

O those jovial family meals,

those delicious orange peels

that we sometimes had for dessert. . . .

When I lay somewhere bleeding and hurt,

who would come to staunch my bleeding?

And what would I do about feeding,

now I was drifting into

a world that I'd never been to?

O those wonderful orange peelings!


And I cursed my delicate feelings

that had driven me into that gloom

that would doubtless turn into my tomb—

or my crypt—I was wondering which,

when my haunch had a furious itch:

a flea—and I wiggled to scratch it

and darted a paw to catch it

before it could hide in my coat—

but I nearly upset the boat.


While musing so sadly and direly,

I'd forgotten my vessel entirely;

and that magical Heaven-sent gift

in which I'd determined to drift

courageously and alone

down into that dark unknown

had almost ceased to buoy me

because a flea could annoy me.

The thought made me shiver and sweat:

how easy it was to forget.


If it hadn't been for my tail,

that flea would have ended my sail;

but thanks to that organ's agility

and the envelope's flexibility,

I'd kept on an even keel:

its delicate sense of feel

extending deep in the stern

detected the slightest turn,

the minutest sway or dip

of my fragile and papery ship;

and while I was unaware

of all but that flea in my hair

till I found the whole vessel tipping,

my tail was tenaciously gripping

and counteracted the list

with a deft and powerful twist

in the opposite direction

which righted my craft to perfection.

I not only steadied the hull with it:

I even found I could scull with it.


O tail, O tail,

thou fulcrum and thou lever;

thou rudder and thou oar;

thou hinge upon the door

of my great squeaking endeavor,

which opens, as I hope,

into a bright beyond;

thou secret bond

between this envelope

and him who rides it;

thou means by which he guides it

unknowing, unawares;

thou thing devoid of hairs;

thou secret sense

subtler and more intense

than all intelligence;

thou purer


far surer

than volition;

guide me to what I seek!


Who said that the flesh was weak?

that flesh was of no avail,

that flesh was doomed to fail?


He couldn't have had a tail.


Richard Moore



From The Mouse Whole: An Epic, Negative Capability
Press, © 1996.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Background by
Alicia's Palace

back ~ home ~ up ~ next