The Smell of Mice By Bob Barba

Bob Barba is currently sheltering in a particularly swell place in Ashfield, MA, where he lives, writes and putters. He’s the current holder of the Poet’s Seat prize and the fine chair that comes with it, which he sits in much more than he used to.

The Smell of Mice

March, 2020

My wife implores me
to bleach the whole room
before I work out here
but I won’t. It’s possible
that it’s harming me, I know,
but it’s the smell of so many rooms
that I have loved. This one
is behind the house and next to the garden,
almost to the massive, twisted pine.
My writing shack, I call it, and it is a shack.

My first such room was a garden shed,
I spent a sabbatical winter there.
This was the last time we thought
the world was ending, and this time
we’re sure of it. This time
it’s not just financial, but a plague,
and half of us think we have it coming.
Most days I wouldn’t go that far,
but it’s not far-fetched. I didn’t vote for it,
but neither have I been in the streets with
my pots and pans, at least not often enough.
I got up, got dressed, went to work,
tried to be good, but it’s hard to be truly good
when you’re rolled up inside a rotting corpse.

Maybe this, too, is why I like the smell.
Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it,
maybe it’s just the smell of these times.
This afternoon when I came out here,
the first really warm day of the early spring,
day five of sheltering in place,
I started by picking up three poisoned carcasses
by their tails with a pair of pliers,
dropping them in a margarine tub,
carrying them outside and hiding them under a log
so the owls won’t get at them
and be poisoned in turn. As if I could
light a fire in one corner of the yard and spare the rest:
Wuhan, Tehran, Milan, Seattle, San Francisco, Westchester.

Out here I still feel far away from it,
but soon there will be no far from it,
only it. While I can breathe, I breathe it in.
Anyone who has ever smelled decay
will tell you
it has a sweetness to it.