Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

Cleaving; The Things That Collect in the Corner That Are Not Mouse Droppings


When it happens

we will divide this household in half,

all its worldly belongings split in two

toward contractual fairness.

You will keep the cushions of this couch

while I carry its base and casters

which will be better for my napping

as I enjoy things firm.

You will have the pots,

I, the pans.

A future for you of soup,

for me, eggs.

The towels will be mine and the blankets yours,

so I can clean the filth from this body

and you can dream warm.

We’ll argue whether the swear jar 

should be divided by value or by type,

I with all the quarters,

you with the rest.

You’ll keep the front half of the dog so you

can see her galloping toward you as you 

stumble through the back door after dark 

(she thought you’d never get home).

I’ll take her hind quarters so she can pill-bug

beside me 

on these bones of a sofa.

You will retain the loud shout

needed for televised football games.

I will keep your quiet voice,

the ghost of early love.

The Things That Collect in the Corner That Are Not Mouse Droppings

Sometimes flecks of paint

or food

that remind us winter has settled in again,

and with that,

the mice,

the seasonal battle for dominion,

the reminder that our opposable thumbs

mean nothing in small spaces.


Sometimes it is merely cobwebs

and the ants they’ve trapped,

wings of flies,

a carcass of a blue beetle.

All those legs, 

weaving their sticky filaments,

trapping atoms of humanity and dust

into this decaying house.


Often, though, it is something else.

That harrowing feeling

that something has gone irretrievably wrong in the world.


It may, at times, be the vestiges of our early intimacy,

savage and hungry,

sometimes cruel with want.

The kitchen tables,

the commuter trains,

the time I bit the first initial 

of my first name

into your back

to brand you mine for life.


Or it may be the residue of my mother in the hospital,

not because she’d fractured a bone

but because she’d forgotten to feed the cat for three full days.


Sometimes, though, it is in fact a mouse

prostrate in a trap

embarrassed by its rigor mortis,

its underside an amusement to history.

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Christy Prahl is a woman of a certain age, philanthropy professional, foraging enthusiast, and sporadic insomniac. She lives in a humble Chicago neighborhood with her husband and plain brown dog. She enjoys the hum and grit of the city, most poignantly realized in its public transportation. Her work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Carolina Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, and Sun Dog: The Southeast Review. She has a poem forthcoming in the Blue Mountain Review.

It would be natural to see “Cleaving” as a reflection on love gone fallow – and it would be disingenuous to say that struggling relationships in my orbit were not part of the root system of the piece – but it’s really about a much broader set of potential divisions. What does it mean to contemplate leaving a marriage, a city, a job, or a friendship that you adore but fear may be starting to use up the best parts of you? Unless you’re planning to run away altogether (the appeal of which can be pretty legible in our darker moments), you need to reckon with what you take with you and what you leave behind. This piece was an effort to illuminate those choices, and those debts.



The Things That Collect in the Corner That Are Not Mouse Droppings:

 My husband and I lucked into buying a little cottage – a rehabbed Quonset hut – in rural Michigan about three years ago. It’s become our weekend refuge from the city and a place to recharge. During our second winter we realized mice had found their way in, and we’ve battled since to block their points of entry, which has honestly become a fool’s errand. All our tests and inspections (is that a mouse dropping or a cumin seed?!) started to feel like a metaphor for trying to control other aspects of our lives, all of which were equally hapless. 


“We’ve got them on the run,” my husband would say. He’s the optimist in the marriage and I’m the insomniac. It was during an anxious bout of wakefulness that the title of this poem came to me. Thankfully I’ve learned to keep a notepad and pen by the bedside."