Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

The Bone-Cupboard

The Bone-Cupboard

By Marcia Southwick

Based on Beatrix Potter's journals and letters

Before Jeremy Fisher Frog wore a macintosh
and shiny galoshes, or fished with a line of white horsehair,
and before he sat on a lily pad, eating a butterfly sandwich,

the rain trickling down his back; and before Peter Rabbit
squeezed under the gate of McGregor's garden,
only to catch the brass buttons of his blue jacket

on the gooseberry net, I was no one, or just a girl
wearing white pique starched frocks and cotton stockings
striped like zebra's legs. At tea-time I'd wait for the farm-boy

to stagger up the carriage-drive with his milk cans,
or I'd sit under the green-fringed table cloth
as Grandmamma gave me gingersnaps out of a canister.

I'd wait for Mr. Wood to bring his pocket handkerchief
filled with two dozen buff-colored caterpillars.
Set loose, they'd crawl up his shoulder and into his gray hair.

Later, my brother and I studied birds. I painted a dead
yellowhammer, its feet in the air, its head tilted back,
the sparse tail feathers nearly picked clean by a cat.

Sometimes we'd skin dead rabbits and boil them,
saving the bones. Or we'd stuff bats, stretching
and pinning the wings to a board after we'd taken

measurements: length of head, body, tail,
Humerus, Radius, Femur, Tibia, Pollex, and Claw.
For my art teacher, I painted a still life of a pineapple

but couldn't resist including Judy, my pet lizard,
who later laid an egg: The embryo wriggled for hours
before it died, its tail curled twice, its big eyes staring

through the brown, transparent shell—The stare
was like the stare of the dolls in The Tale of Two Bad Mice,
after Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb have raided

the red brick dolls' house, after they've smashed
the plaster ham and thrown the fish into the kitchen's crinkly
paper fire that won't bum, or like the stare

of the glass eyes that fell one day from the shelf
as I dusted the bone-cupboard where my brother and I kept
our collection of British mice. Skeletons broke,

and eyes scattered across the floor. For hours I mended bones,
as the blackness of each pupil seemed to draw
everything into its gaze.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 73-74


Marcia Southwick

Marcia Southwick is the author of The Night Won't Save Anyone (U of Georgia P) and Why the River Disappears (Carnegie-Mellon UP). In 1998 she won the Field Poetry Prize for her forthcoming collection A Saturday Night at the Flying Dog & Other Poems (Oberlin College P). She has taught creative writing at several universities, including the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Warren Wilson MFA program, and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

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