Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Last night after a violent rainstorm, our office cat Captain Nemo awakened from a nap and went outside for a bit. Within half an hour he brought us:

one field mouse

another field mouse

and a third field mouse.

(No, this was not the same mouse three times). These little fellows probably washed out of their holes in the torrential rain and were looking for dry ground, which they found inside our office – with Nemo’s help. The Captain is a gentle cat and doesn’t kill mice, but he does bring them inside so he can receive full credit for being a great hunter.

The first mouse stayed quiet as I scooped it up, cradled it in my hands, and made a quick trip to the hay field across the road for a live release.   The second mouse was a fighter; he sank his front teeth into my hand and held on for dear life. I had to rip him off my hand and leave him in the sink while I washed, treated, and bandaged my finger.  I wrapped him in a towel and made a second trip to the hay field.

Fifteen minutes later, Nemo delivered the third mouse.  Emboldened by my earlier success, I tried to grab this one with the mouse-towel, but he zipped under a bookcase.  I sprawled on my stomach with a broom, trying to dislodge him from the corner and shoo him into a paper bag.  Captain Nemo watched with mild amusement. Evidently he felt he’d already caught the mouse once, so now it was my turn.  This mouse eluded capture and is still at large, although we set a live trap in the office baited with peanut butter and bird seed.

Office Mouse So now we have an office cat and an office mouse (a real mouse).  A literary mouse. Captain Nemo

This reminds me of a classic series of newspaper columns from years ago: Archy and Mehitabel.  In 1916 (no, I wasn’t alive then), Don Marquis introduced a fictional cockroach named Archy into his daily newspaper column in The New York Evening Sun.  Archy the cockroach was an incarnated free verse poet who began writing stories and poems on an old typewriter after hours.  Mehitabel the alley cat became Archy’s best friend.  Freddy the rat was another character.

Does this sound like a bad acid trip?  I’m not making it up. I was introduced to Archy by my friend Eugene Povirk, now co-owner of Whately Antiquarian Book Center in Whately Massachusetts (http://whatelybookcenter.weebly.com/).   Don Marquis’ delightful columns are available in book and ebook format, with a reprint from Anchor Books in 2012.  Here’s a sample:

We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys. He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

Congratulating ourself that we had left a sheet of paper in the machine the night before so that all this work had not been in vain, we made an examination, and this is what we found:

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it

i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i haven’t had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy

   By Don Marquis, in “archy and mehitabel,” 1927       Archy and Mehitabel

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