NURSING THE HAMSTER, by Deborah Digges

And it was true.

A death so slight they could hold it in their palms

opening up rooms inside them

according to their need,

his like a closet.

He'd kick the doors out daily.

Hers was a wilderness

through which she'd wander calling his name.

After that, believe me,

nothing went right for them.

Say what you like.

Say even grief seeks some proportion.

For death to count at all,

that which goes in the earth beneath the yew must weigh

the sum of its displacement.

Or say the animal was mostly metaphor,

an aberration born in a cage

to live three years, far from its kind.

And was it ever, anyway, entirely itself, even to the boy?

"It's like a cat," he'd say,

or "like a tiny puppy . . .

It's like a bird that cannot fly away."

Still, they had fed it the medicine through an eye-dropper,

its silly wheel gone silent.

And the boy lay down and put it on his chest.

He let it sleep there through the evenings.

So they had hope

the night before it died,

the way suddenly it nested, its pouches packed

so full, the thing was laughable,

barely maneuvering the bright plastic maze,

stopping here and there to rest, panting, plowing on.

Who can say which sadness when takes over,

becomes rudder?

Who can name for another what moors, what charts the drift?

Yes, they had laughed and laughed,

the way laughter

buoys faith, bullies the truth back into hiding.

And the animal, without analogy,

the animal in some last instinct which merely parallels desire,

wanted it all, wanted more, which is to be alive.

From "Rough Music" by Deborah Digges. (Knopf: $20; 54 pp.) 1995 Reprinted by permission.

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