Page 13 - September 2020
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         hear   it   scratching   and   gnawing,   making   a   vicious   racket   and   leaving   bits   of   its   dung   behind.   I   was
         afraid  to  open  the  cupboard,  even  after  the  rat  had  deserted  it.  I  was  afraid  of  what  I  might  see  They
         say  that  rats  appear  at  night,  but  this  rat  was  not  like  that:  it  appeared  only  during  the  day.  At  times  it
         seemed   to   be   taunting   me.   At   times   it   seemed   to   say,   “You   believe   this   house   to   be   yours,   but   this
         house belongs as well to me. I am only a rat, but I am a master here.”
                   And  to  invade  my  house  was  akin  to  invading  me.  The  rat  had  done  that.  It  had  entered  the  sphere
         of  my  being,  and  it  seemed  to  have  no  fear  of  me  or  anything  else.  What  would  you  have  done?  Phone
         the  exterminator?  But  I  had  no  money  for  that.  All  I  had  was  a  large,  heavy  shovel.  It  was  in  my  garage
         when I bought the house and I had never used it for anything. But it was there,waiting.
                   One  day  the  rat  appeared.  He  seemed  to  be  especially  defiant  that  day,  darting  across  the  floor.  If
         rats   can   laugh,   it   seemed   to   me   that   he   was   laughing   at   me,   at   the   spectacle   of   an   old,   thin   man
         holding   a   heavy   shovel.   He   made   a   sound   that   reminded   me   of   laughter.   It   was   all   too   much.   I
         slammed  the  shovel  on  him  with  every  ounce  of  strength  I  had.  It  landed.  He  was  alive,  but  very  badly
         hurt.  Desperate,  he  made  another  sound—a  sound  I  took  to  mean,  “Help  me.  I  am  a  creature  you  have
         harmed. I have no more wish to die than you have. Help me.”
                   The  rat  lay  there,  bleeding  onto  my  shovel.  Suddenly  I  felt  a  great  pity  for  him.  I  had  a  sense  of  the
         desperate  life  he  must  have  led,  danger  all  around  him,  how  difficult  it  must  have  been  for  him  to  find
         food  and  shelter.  He  had  found  a  safe  haven  in  my  house,  which  he  had  made  into  his  house  as  well.
         Who was I to judge? In another life I too might have been a rat. In another life I might have been worse
         than  that—a  worm,  a  piece  of  dirt.  The  rat,  like  me,  was  alive.  He  was  perhaps  my  brother.  “Think  of  all
         creatures,” said a Buddhist teacher, “even a rat, as your mother.”
                   Then  I  slammed  the  shovel  on  him  once  again.  Harder  this  time.  He  was  no  more.  Nothing  but  a
         terrible  blotch  on  my  kitchen  floor.  A  mess  that  was  once  a  living  thing.  I  removed  him  with  rubber
         gloves  and  disposed  of  his  mangled  corpse  in  the  trash.  Again  and  again  I  cleaned  and  disinfected  the
         area  where  he  had  been,  but  it  doesn’t  matter.  There  are  days—not  nights,  days—when  I  see  him  still,
         though  I  know  he  no  longer  exists.  There  are  days  when  I  know,  in  another  life,  I  was  a  suicide:  I  too
         was  “brother  rat.”  I  know  now  that,  in  killing  him,  it  was  myself  that  I  killed.  And  I  know  further  that
         when  I  die,  he  will  stand  next  to  me,  accusing  me,  making  the  rat  sounds  that  he  made  in  my  kitchen
         and knowing that I will pay for my deed. It will be clear then that he is alive and that I am the man, the
         dying man, on whom the sun has gone down.

          Jack Foley has published 17 books of poetry, 5
            books of criticism, a book of stories, and a
           1300-page “chronoencyclopedia,” Visions &
           Affiliations: California Poetry 1940-2005. He
          became well known through his multi-voiced
           performances with his late wife, Adelle, also
           a poet. He currently performs with his new
           life partner, Sangye Land. He has presented
           poetry on radio station KPFA since 1988 and
             has received two Lifetime Achievement

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