The most common prey of a barn owl,
the teacher tells us, are mice and voles,
sometimes a rat, rarely a small rabbit,
but the pellet she lays on our worktable—
regurgitated bones and fur, everything
indigestible—is smaller than any of those.
I picture my mother, dead a year now,
and wonder how much of her skin
is left, how small she’d be in her coffin
if she were only bones. My partner, Dwayne,
tweezes the owl’s prey free, and I reconstruct
the skeletons—one, a partial vole; the other,
a complete shrew—on a sheet of white paper.
I marvel, roll each bone in my hand
like a precious stone before I glue it down,
the vole’s ulna and broken radius, the shrew’s skull
cracked down the center, its sharp
and tiny teeth. When we’re finished,
Dwayne and I argue over who will take
the project home—my rock beats his scissors.
My stepmother gasps, Throw that away!
But that night, while she and my father sleep,
I sneak downstairs, dig it out of the garbage, and hide it
in my closet, inside the largest drawer of my empty jewelry box.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 14, Issue 2.