Chaetodipus penicillatus

Sonoran desert pocket mouse

Sandra Szelag



The Sonoran Desert Pocket Mouse: In Her Own Words


Okay, so my brain may be the size

of a wooden match head

but I’m not a dummy.

So, here’s my question

for you big-brained humans.

Why in this world of prickly pear

did you name me pocket mouse ?

I am not a mouse. Or even a rat.

I’m a humble rodent, well-known in these parts

as the “one-who-makes-beans-disappear-behind-her.”


Another thing, while I have your ear,

you and I live in a desert, right?

So, why would you spend your days

out in the scorching heat?

Me, I curl up nice and cool,

steeped in day dreams---

way down in my burrow of sand.


Sometimes I dream I’m dining

at an all-you-can-eat buffet, crunching

on beans of the sweet mesquite.

A taste to live for. Scrumptious.


Other times I have daymares.

Like the time I was back with my ancestors

running this way and that.

We scrambled to escape

as glaciers scraped away our homes.

It’s tough to be brave

when you’re as small

as a knuckle of staghorn cholla,

dodging the deadly feet of a mammoth.


In one of my favorite dreams,

I stood on a podium to a standing ovation

of human applause. My white chest

widened with pride to be lauded at last

as one of the original “green” recyclers.

To a drum roll of thumping feet

from my buddies, the kangaroo rats,

an announcer proclaimed: “Chaetodipus penicillatus,

if it weren’t for you and the rest of your kind,

by now, we’d be hiking the desert

knee-deep in leftover beans.”


I don’t need a clock to tell me when night has broken.

When bats fly, when darkness slides down,

an alarm goes off deep inside me,

and I’m raring to start my work.


First, I poke my nose

out of my hole under the creosote bush.

I use my big whiskers and my coarse fur

to brush the sand away.

Wow, can I make that dust scatter.

My big brown eyes scan for snakes and kit foxes.

Even my ears have little whiskers

to keep my hearing keen, for the flapping

of an owl wing

is but a whisper.

The part that’s hard,

is pulling my tail out

because I have a tail that goes on and on and continues to come and come,

dragging my built-in broom at the end.


When I’m sure all is clear, I pause

to remember my five California cousins.

Wired with tiny helmets, they soared

into space on Apollo 17, landed

on this very moon that lights my way.

They gave up their lives for research,

so I bend toward the moon with a bow.


All night long I scurry. My cheek pouches

swollen with beans. Some I eat, but most

I hoard. By morning, I’m dead on my feet.

I can’t wait to crawl back into my burrow

to sleep, to dream once more.

Maybe today, I’ll dream of my mother.

I’d like to hear her voice again,

telling me what she always told me:

“Little Pinky, don’t ever be ashamed

to be a gatherer of beans,

a sweeper of the desert floor.”




A native Chicagoan, Sandra Szelag fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and moved to Tucson in 1977. She serves as a docent at The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Her poems have appeared in the Arizona State Poetry Society Journal, Sandcutters, in SandScript Art & Literary Magazine, and most recently, in Spilled, a collection by the Dry River Poets.