There but by the grace of God go I.
Monthly Archives: May 2008
There but by the grace of God go I.
The Meadow Mouse
by Theodore Roethke
In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking
Sleeps the baby mouse I found in the meadow,
Where he trembled and shook beneath a stick
Till I caught him up by the tail and brought him in,
Cradled in my hand,
A little quaker, the whole body of him trembling,
His absurd whiskers sticking out like a cartoon-mouse,
His feet like small leaves,
Whitish and spread wide when he tried to struggle away,
Wriggling like a minuscule puppy.
Now he’s eaten his three kinds of cheese and drunk from his
So much he just lies in one corner,
His tail curled under him, his belly big
As his head; his bat-like ears
Twitching, tilting toward the least sound.
Do I imagine he no longer trembles
When I come close to him?
He seems no longer to tremble.
But this morning the shoe-box house on the back porch is empty.
Where has he gone, my meadow mouse,
My thumb of a child that nuzzled in my palm?–
To run under the hawk’s wing,
Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree,
To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat.
I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass,
The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway,
The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising,–
All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
September 30, 1859, ‘Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’.
He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
by Brad Leithauser
For her big birthday
we gave her (nothing less would do)
the world, which is to say
a globe copyrighted the very year
she was born—ninety years before.
She held it tenderly, and it was clear
both had come such a long way:
the lovely, dwindled, ever-eager-to-please
woman whose memory had begun to fray
and a planet drawn and redrawn through
endless shifts of aims and loyalties,
and war and war.
Her eye fell at random. “Formosa,” she read.
“Now that’s pretty. Is it there today?”
A pause. “It is,” my brother said,
“though now it’s called Taiwan.”
She looked apologetic. “I sometimes forget…”
“Like Sri Lanka,” I added. “Which was Ceylon.”
And so my brothers and I, globe at hand, began:
which places had seen a change of name
in the last ninety years? Burma, Baluchistan,
Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia, Transjordan, Tibet.
Because she laughed, we extended our game
into history, mist: Vineland, Persia, Cathay…
She was in a middle place—
her fifties—when photos were first transmitted,
miraculously, from outer space.
Who could believe those men—in their black noon—
got up like robots, wandering the wild
wastelands of the moon,
and overheard a wholly naked sun
and an Earth so far away
it was less real than this one,
the gift received today—
the globe she’d so tenderly fitted
under her arm, like a child.
Finally, there’s cake: nine candles in a ring.
…Just so, the past turns distant past,
each rich decade diminishing
to a little stick of wax, rapidly
expiring. I say, “Now make a wish before
you blow them out.” She says, “I don’t see—”
stops. Then mildly protests: “But they look so nice.”
We laugh at her—and wince when a look of doubt
or fear clouds her face; she needs advice.
Well—what should anyone wish for
in blowing candles out
but that the light might last?
Archeology, as it is practiced today in nearly every country with an interest in shaping a historical identity, falls somewhere between a hard science – “facts” that can be ascertained by dating, testing, and inscription experts – and an interpretive social science whose “facts” have traditionally derived from ancient texts and their mapping and attribution clues.
‘The Petition’, The New Yorker, April 14, 2008, Vol. 84, Issue 9.