‘The Idea of Others’A Poem by Brenda Shaughnessy

From her collection The Octopus Museum

March 20, 2019  By Brenda Shaughnessy

An animal is scritching in the wall behind my bed. At first I thought it was some kind of water crackling in a heating pipe but what kind of water stops when you thump the wall? I don’t mean to be mean, I mean to make it scurry off, to send it to scritch somewhere I can’t hear.

No, I’m not afraid—it is small, by the sound of its scritch. I’m not in Room 101, not worried about a gnarled whiskered rodent face chewing my eyelids in my sleep. I know these small animals, if it is an animal,

are generally afraid of big, intelligent me so far up the food chain, capable of terrible violence if frightened. I know they know they can never physically get me and are only after a crumb or a drop, like everyone really.

No, I’m trying to protect my peace of mind, my inner life, my pest-free dreams, from these unseen labors in a frenzy in the wall behind my bed. I was going to say it drives me mad and that is its fault, or was I going to say who am I to judge the urges and intensities of another species?

What I’ll say instead is that I am part of the universe, privy to sounds parallel but unreachable, and on some other level, that I know I am alive, factually, unloving and alone.


Excerpted from The Octopus Museum. Copyright © 2019 by Brenda Shaughnessy. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.

Brenda Shaughnessy
Brenda Shaughnessy
Brenda Shaughnessy has written five poetry collections, including So Much Synth, Human Dark with Sugar—winner of the James Laughlin Award and finalist for the NBCC Award—and Our Andromeda, which was a NYTBR 100 Notable Books of 2013.

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