Jonathan Rice


The summer after divorce, my brother’s friend
devoted himself to breeding mice for their university
laboratory. The lung-sting of ammonia

filled his house, and the scent of urine in his clothes
was as unmistakably his as the musk of formaldehyde
all through gross anatomy, when he and my brother

cut into and peeled back the layers of a woman,
old enough at death to be their mother, and
old enough now to be the woman whose presence

was erased with the multiplication of rodents
bred for their deficiencies: bone loss and blindness,
Alzheimer’s and arthritis, lined in the wood-chip

tufts of their cages and staring, as they always did,
when he entered the room, the night he knelt on
the tarp-spread floor to mouth the muzzle of a pistol.

My brother tells me this as we step from a river
we’d waded up and down all day, casting for bass,
gar, panfish, anything biting, which was nothing.

We stagger to take off our shoes, drain sand
and the fractured shells of mollusks, their undersides
purpled to the unpearled center of their stations,

and we are barefoot on the path to the parking lot
and silent because he is silent. And I am trying hard
to recall the name they gave the cadaver—it was Maria—

to address her shut face with thanks before he drew back
in full the sheet from her nakedness, when he stops us
near a poplar trunk to see the husk of an aphid

split at the thorax from the hatched larvae of wasps,
which ate their way out of the living host—a rupture
of wings, blurred and incandescent with flight.