Rat

In the museum there was a man laid out,
chained hand and foot, his fingery rib-cage
riddling the skin, his sweat-smeared bearded head
tilted up at a half-dome of lead bars

hard in the sallow sag of his stomach,
in which a brown rat ran the trickle-lash
of his tail, the twiggy nips of his claws,
the nerving of his sniffing and whiskers.

Jesus. I couldn’t imagine, back then,
what that man suffered. But it was natural
enough. After all, the rat had to eat,
poor thing; he had no choice in the matter.

I felt there was something of his glum look
in the face of one planted in the ranks
of the fresco that brightened the altar,
one hanging back, phlegmatic, from the light;

something of his twitchiness in the wait
at the rail some years later, kneeling there
prepared for the pale wafer, thin as skin,
to blankly suck the spit from the tongue,

getting set for the carpet-red run of blood,
ready to mouth, to swallow anything
just to be free of the sun-trap, the stained bars,
to be back past the rat ribs of the hanging man,

out.

 

 

Lead

Whenever I take a walk on my own
(and I never don’t take one on my own),
with the city breathing its scarves of cloud,
wearing its medals of dead and surrendering leaves,
its hills slushy with softening prints of snow,

people look at me sniffily, suspiciously,
like this is really uncommon, beyond comprehension,
there must be something wrong with him, they think,
squinting, I mean, who on earth takes a walk
on their own, what the hell is he up to?

And the shame launches up, my eyes downcast
as I pass them, tied to another living species, the loop
in one hand, a bag of its shit in the other
like a pouch of gold coins, or an uncharming talisman
to ward off evil spirits (such as me).

So I might start going at night, in the space
between more than days, raw as a cosmonaut
slashed from his umbilicus; then I might say
I was looking for Laika, since I don’t know
if in a circuit she burned up fiercely, completely,

or her ashes fell somewhere, tamely as snow.

 

 

 

 

[Iain Twiddy studied literature at university and lived for several years in northern Japan. He has poems published or forthcoming in The Poetry ReviewThe London MagazineHarvard ReviewPoetry Ireland Review and elsewhere.]

Copyright © 2019 by Iain Twiddy, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.