My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse

88 Pages, FootHills Publishing
Illustration by Carol Zaloom
$16.00 [wp_cart:My-Late-Mother-as-a-Ruffed-Grouse:price:16.00:end]
— Platte Clove, Catskills

History has failed to record the mice
who nested in Rip Van Winkle’s beard,
or the stinging nettles that grew
for twenty summers between his rotting shoes.
While Rip snored, chipmunks stashed
acorns in his pockets, and spotted salamanders
wiggled safely for generations
beneath his back. Once
a bear tripped over his chest
and stopped to eat his pipe.
Wood toads hopped
along his buttons, and oven birds
sang Tea-cher, Tea-cher, Tea-cher,
in his ears all summer without prompting
any nightmares. When Rip woke
and wandered back to town
with a rusty gun muzzle
and ten inch fingernails,
he became America’s first great celebrity
of sleep, a cautionary tale
of life without a snooze alarm.

Tonight I lay awake and listen to thunder
echo in the clove like bowling pins
bouncing off cliffs. In lightning
white curtains flash like the ghosts
of children I never had.
The old maple tree blusters
helplessly in the storm. I wonder
how Rip managed to forget his unpaid bills,
his sullen boy, and bitter wife,
who didn’t look up from the butter churn,
when he closed the door
to lead his dog up the mountain
for an afternoon of hunting squirrels.
He lay down for a moment long enough to sleep
through his mortgage. I’d settle
for twenty minutes without a mental post-it note.
I’m a stunning success at staying awake
and lamenting my lost chances.
I visualize myself as a rotting log
and begin counting toads on my chest moss.
I wonder how Rip stumbled
across the secret of human hibernation,
a trick so wonderful I’ve paid to watch it
in movies about people traveling to the stars.