Maternal Instinct

Voles in my garden.

Tiny baby rodent toes

mouths suckling at the air.

Curled around themselves.


In fear.

Did their mother

just birth them?

Is she off

looking for food?

My baby wants to keep them

as pets.

He places them gently

one by one

in a shoebox

with some dirt

and shredded newspaper

and sets them

on the porch.

I don’t

want to put them back

in my garden.

They will eat my potatoes.

I must feed my child.

There is no one to help me

do it.

He plays a video game

as I carry them

under the full moon

to the field

by the railroad tracks

near the river

and set them

in the grass.

A dull rawness in my heart.

I look into the moon.

“I’m sorry”.

The moon just stares back


and clear.

I drive back home

to feed my son.

As he eats his dinner

of french fried potatoes

from the freezer section

he says –

“It’s not really the same,

is it,


Some animal mothers

won’t accept their babies back

if they smell different,


His eyes search mine.

“I don’t even know

if vole mothers

really love their babies”

he questions.


they just reproduce”.

My eyes search his.

“No, it’s not really the same,”

I assure him.

“It’s more just instinct.”

I pause.

“But then,

maybe love

is instinct”.

We are silent.

And hold each other’s gaze.

At night

he sleeps

with the sole

of his foot


into my leg.

I press back.

In the morning

I overcome my fear

and go back into the garden

to dig some more potatoes.

There is no damage

to my garden.

Just a fresh

empty hole

tunneling into the earth

in the spot

where I had spilled the little nest

into the dirt.

I pause for a moment.

And recognize.

Her love.

Her sacrifice.

Her loss.

Maternal instinct.

Then I fill in

the little hole

with dirt.

And just keep digging.

Fresh new potatoes.

The bright blue sky


like it is any other day.

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