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The Mouse and The Clock

by Susan Mitchell

It has just started to snow,
one large flake on the red roof of the house,
two small flakes on the black cap of a boy.
In the light of the street lamp flakes circle like moths.
Inside the house a woman sits in a chair
and behind her, like a mother reading over her shoulder,
is a tall, thin clock with a white face and gold hands.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, it says
like a tongue flicking in and out.
Tock-tick, you must read to the beat of my heart.
And slowly the story the woman is reading
shapes itself to the beat of the clock.
Tock-tock, says the clock to the child in the next room,
You must dream to the beat of my heart.
But the child, who is not asleep yet,
sits up when it hears the clock speak.
Look! says the child. It's snowing.
The snow must fall to the beat of my heart,
says the clock.
And the wind must wind and unwind to my key.
The moon, too, it must rise and set to my chimes.

But the snow isn't listening.
And the story the snow has to tell
rises and falls, loosens and tightens
to a rhythm only the snow knows.

The woman puts down her book
saying, This story is not very good,
when she hears a voice
smaller than the hole in a button,
finer than the point of a needle.
I, says the voice, am a mouse.
And this is true, for a mouse
has come out of the oven and now it sits
in the center of the room.
Its ears are red, its tail is red
and skinny like the leather marker in her book.
The mouse looks at her with its tiny red eyes.
Then it begins to dance, shouting:
Chalk for the nose, hair for the bag.
Nasty the whisker and worse the hag.
Tick-tock, tick-tock,
says the clock. That's nonsense!

But as the mouse speaks its voice grows bigger
until it is big as the buckle on the woman's belt,
and bigger until it is big as the shoe on her foot,
until it is big as the voice of the child
calling from the next room.
Look! says the voice. It's snowing.
And for the first time that evening she looks at the snow.
When she does, the snow is so loud that for a moment
she cannot hear the clock speaking.
Tick-tock, says the clock. But she really cannot hear it.
Instead she hears the moon.
And it seems to her that the moon
is a clock without hands and without numbers.
One, says the moon, One.
says the moon, Two.
Listen, says the child, the moon is chiming.


Susan Mitchell, a 1979 winner of the YMHA/Nation Discovery Award, was a Fellow at the Fine ARts Work Center in Provincetown in 1977-1979. This year she is Hoyns Fellow in Poetry at the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, kayak, and elsewhere.(4/1981)

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AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI