A Beheading

Thick odor.
Rush for another deep gulp of hall air.
Gagging, throw open a bedroom door.
You’ve found it, a mouse
guillotined in the chamber of a box fan.

Outdoors on the fire escape in wonder
you study the apparatus of fortune
to find what aperture it has forced
what struggle it welcomed;
imagine its small mass
pressing through thin slats;
what promise led it to the blade.

Perhaps bread crumbs swept across a floor
landed in the fan’s rectangular shallows;
or some orphan predator—cat, rat, snake,
pursued it here. This condemned building
with its unlawful riggings
that allow electricity to steal into the rooms
attracts what wildlife thrives in cities;
hum of community in the motor, maybe,
a buzzing hive, or rhythmic purr
like dope;
or decoy to risky business,
search for judgment,
that drug.

You almost understand its bad luck,
and yours, traps set downwind,
hapless beheadings for fertilizer,
nest in the heat of the swarm;
stivvy out means to work
you are too impoverished to leave;
cling to your kind;
spend nights in cheap forgetting;
trade innocence for knowledge
that kills.

You attack the box fan with a Phillips-head,
shake it out over the alley,
holding it aloft with two hands.
The mouse’s head and body fall separately,
silently vanish on the backdrop of gray concrete.
An improper burial you won’t think about.
You shower and fling open every door and window
but the musk stays with you
dramatically, like a guilty secret,
lingers at the back of your throat.
You can taste it.
It gathers in classrooms;
infuses lures and maybes,
hangs in passages,
in each step, each turn
of earth.

Miriam C. Jacobs, a University of Chicago alumna, teaches writing, literature, and women’s studies. Jacobs's poetry has won an Atlanta Review International Publications Award and placed in Poetica's Anna David Rosenberg competition, both 2017 and 2018. Her poems appear in Stillwater ReviewTishman Review, Reform Jewish Quarterly, and other publications.