The Shrew

Brought to the deck
in the epitome of rigor mortis,
tail hung squarely between two boards,
hands and feet splayed,
sharp nose pointed at the dawn—
I have no choice but to look it up
and wonder which goals (in shrew
symbolism) I’ve been neglecting.
What more worldly desires have I
to overcome? Clothes, money,
yet the desire for a pain-free life—
is that too much to ask?
Big black eye open and reflecting
a bit of cloud from the summer sky.
Cleft mouth about to speak,
if shrews could talk, about hardship
and the Maine Coon that came from nowhere
though it easily could have died
from being picked up or hearing thunder.
In that way I feel a certain kinship
and wish the man hadn’t thrown it
into the trash bin. I’d have kept this shrew
around, had it eviscerated and hung
in my bedroom as a symbol,
even if the taxidermist I hired had to ask
(working deep in the guts of the thing)
those questions regarding my need
for a three-dimensional model
of what Shakespeare used for one oeuvre.
That’s one famous play, he (the taxidermist)
would say and I’d nod,
remain silent, my lips pressed together
as the skin underwent disinfection
before this entity far smaller than a deer
or an elk became the totem
above a double bed I share with no one.



Click here to read Judith Skillman on the origin of the poem.

Image: by Gilles Gonthier, licensed under CC 2.0.

Judith Skillman:

“The Shrew” wrote itself, largely, as some rare poems do. It is a narrative piece about a shrew my Six-year old Maine Coon killed last summer. He left it on the deck, as stated, and I couldn’t help but observe the rodent, and then look it up. When younger my cat (named Rabbit) caught moles and mice, but he never caught a shrew. Note: He is now diabetic and has respiratory disease so I am quite sad as his life expectancy will be quite short.

But back to the little present left by Rabbit the cat. When I researched the shrew, I learned they not rodents—rather “insectivores,” and in the mole family. They are extremely sensitive and can actually die from being picked up or hearing thunder. This touched me because I am an HSP (highly sensitive person); it became necessary information. I placed it in the poem prior to these lines: “In that way I feel a certain kinship/and wish the man hadn’t thrown it/into the trash bin. I’d have kept this shrew/ around, had it eviscerated and hung/in my bedroom as a symbol…”

The process of discovery for this piece was to feel into and identify the strong feelings I had, and still harbor, for this small animal. The shrew had somehow become tender in death. It was perhaps all of two and half inches. Then, by association, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew came in towards the end of the poem, which felt like a lucky accident because it’s a misogynist play even taken in context with the Italian Renaissance. The poem’s ending followed naturally from the entry of the taxidermist as a character. All in all I feel content with this piece because, as mentioned earlier, and as is true for me lately, poems do not often “write themselves”.

Judith Skillman
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