“A Story” by Sarah Pemberton Strong

Sarah Pemberton Strong


On the street of my childhood
a boy kept a pet boa constrictor.

The boa ate live mice, one per month.
The boy left home and left his mother

in charge of the feedings.
The mother, unaware

the boa had just eaten, dropped a second mouse
into the glass terrarium.

The boa was already full and not interested.
The mouse huddled in a corner, terrified.

After several days the mouse began to starve:
no mouse food in the terrarium.

The mother, unhappy in her role
as procurer for a snake,

kept as far away from the terrarium as possible
and did not notice

anything. Eventually
hunger grew stronger than terror

and the mouse
took a bite of the boa constrictor.

I won’t prolong this.
The bite became infected and the boa died.

Eventually the mother noticed.
When the son came back

he found the palatial glass cage
inhabited by a single mouse.

When I think about this story now,
I think most often of all the life I’ve spent

being the huddled mouse,
in such danger, I felt,

but not.
It is harder to see that I have also been the snake.

And the mother. Too many times
the mother.

But today when I thought of it,
I was the boy,

staring in amazement at a life
I would not have thought possible

had I not been there to witness,
firsthand, the blindness of the body

and the persistence of the body
and the circumstances

of the body among others,
the body that needs and needs

and forgets absolutely nothing.

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Sarah Pemberton Strong: “The story in this poem happened just as the poem relates it, and has fascinated me ever since I was in my teens; for years afterward, I told people the mouse-bites-boa anecdote. Then last spring I found myself writing it down, at which point I began to wonder what it was about this particular story that compelled me to keep revisiting it. When I began to investigate that question, the poem appeared.” (web)

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