Depending on where you stand an ocean
can be above you. Think about that ocean
above you. Think about the water that hangs
in the sky above you. There is no sky
above you, only an ocean above you.
Depending on where you stand
whole armies could be assembling
out of sight, close enough
to strike you down before you can
think about rebellion. Think about rebellion.
Think about the crimes you are condemned for,
the crimes you haven’t committed.
Commit them. Depending on where you sleep
someone can always see you. Sleep
with an eye open to the possibility
that you’re not sleeping, or you can’t sleep,
or you won’t. And if you’re kept awake
by a knot in your chest, stand:
warn others of the ocean above you.
I awoke at the bottom of a crater,
smoke spiraling from my rib cage
and looked for you, but saw only
dirt and soot.
I know what the sky
looks like from everywhere
I have ever stood. I have stood near
a great many things: buildings,
birds, plants, and even the wind,
If a thing squeals or screams,
you must know I have stood near it,
heard its keen, its boom or breath,
known it from the outside, and trusted
that it can be known from inside,
and set free.
Not exactly free. Set loose,
perhaps, like an animal. Destructive.
How a scared thing destroys itself
trying to break down a door.
stung my eyes and I remembered
how long it had been since
the last time I cried.
I raised my head
and wondered where this hole
in my chest had come from,
how I had come to stand
adjacent to the earth and if,
in this ash, I could find you.
We stacked firewood against the house
Our first winter there, building a pile
Within reach outside the door.
We learned quickly our mistake.
Our stores of rice and oatmeal fattened
The bellies of interloping mice.
We’d built a home for them, but it felt cruel
To set traps. As winter wore on,
We dismantled the pile, destroyed their shelter.
By spring they’d moved indoors.
New castles in our cabinets, outposts
Behind the bookshelves. We lived there,
But the house belonged to the mice.
We’d learned our mistake, so the next winter
We built the woodpile across the yard
Against the dilapidated shed. No longer
Could we reach the firewood in shirtsleeves.
Now, we bundled up, trekked a few yards
To fetch what we needed for warmth.
Once, the mice had been a constant presence.
Now our home felt hollow.
We scattered crumbs from our breakfasts
In hopes they’d join us, but they were gone
Where no trap could reach them.
By winter’s end the house was ours,
But we couldn’t bear to live there.
We let our home go to the mice. Gave up
Defending our cabinets and protecting
Our utensils against their assault.
They took the space under the sink first.
The counters fell next, their skittish cause
Leaving us without bread or beans.
It didn’t take long to starve us. We yielded easily
When they came for the living and dining rooms,
But fortified ourselves in the bedroom for a time.
The siege ended when they chewed the sheets.
We surrendered into their nests of down
And sawdust and fell asleep. When we woke,
The house was ours again, but we lived in the walls.
Timothy Otte’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the Minnesota review, SAND Journal, Structo, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Poetry City, USA. He is from and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he is at work on his first collection of poems. Say his last name like body. More at www.timothyotte.com.