But today I read The Rat again. Its reek
announced it; then I saw its pisshole stare;
line by line it strained into the air.
– Don Paterson
Because I can’t, a rat redrafts the lower reaches
of our house at night, cursive across high ledges,
forcing the bright idea of its body through masonry
to trace the lines of copper pipes. A huge buck,
gnawing plastic, caches of cat food, grazing on lintels.
With slivers of wood, he stories his kind:
lives spent shy in the bellies of ships, or prone
in a laboratory, addicted to light. Mornings, he’s
heard-not-seen, scrabbling up shelves
behind me, lithe in the corner of my eye.
Why do I hate him? He is the mother of invention.
Attacked, he slips the glove of his tail
like a lover removing a t-shirt. In groups, he
becomes a mischief. In groups, I am only a sigh.
Because he aches like me, I fear him
or feign compassion, lacing the see-saw
traps he ignores with chorizo, peanut butter.
I envy his long, loping sentences below my floor,
inside our walls, covet his fairytale fame, even
the villainy, even the placed blame. Black Death.
Lassi Fever. Such articulate history. I read him
in the hollows of the outhouse, dank cellar, stating
his case in crumbs. Even his piss is eloquent. At dusk,
I open the pantry door and he charges towards it
barrelling, a ball of midnight, muscular shadow,
come to shame me with his bravery. In India,
in the north where wild bamboo grows
there is a rat flood every fifty years. Mautam:
windfall of seeds, a flowering, then the rats
multiply, a plague spilling through grain stores.
They eat until a famine settles on the land
like rain. I know rat flood is metaphor, but here
in the dark, at the foot of the stairs I reject it,
feel them plummet from the sky, a hail of fur,
the surge of life around my knees
as I wade through their shy bodies
up to my neck. When the rat moves past me
I become a figure of speech in his damp world.
Which of us is living now? We are finished
Helen Mort is a British poet and novelist. She is a five-time winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors in 2007, and won the Manchester Poetry Prize Young Writer Prize in 2008. She was the Derbyshire Poet Laureate from 2013 to 2015. In 2014, she won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for Division Street and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the T.S. Eliot Prize. She has published two pamphlets with Tall Lighthouse press. In 2014 she was named as a Next Generation poet by the Poetry Book Society. She has appeared on radio programmes such as The Verb, Poetry Please, and Woman’s Hour. Individual poems have been published in the New Statesman, The Sunday Times, Poetry Review, Granta, The Rialto, Poetry London, The Manhattan Review, and The North. www.helenmort.com
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