if you keep a rat in a cage

If you keep a rat in a cage
the rat will lose the impulse to bite you.
Will take food from your hand gently, before
running away with it, back into the corner.
Will climb above on the perches
like a bird in the night.
Will race to the cage door in the dark
and watch you pass, hoping.
Will press its face against the bars,
against the floor as you pet it, as you
stroke it kindly with one finger.
Will perch on your shoulder, and run around
inside your coat, and try not to
piss on you.

If you keep a rat in a cage, and you leave
your best wool sweater there too close by,
the rat will drag it in, pull it through
the narrow opening between the bars
with a strength that seems supernatural,
and tear the crap out of it,
pull the shreds together in a huge rat's nest
and sleep in it, happily shrouded in
closeness to you.

If you keep a rat in a cage, there is no guarantee
the rat will come to love you, but
chances are good. As is the likelihood the rat
will be authentic in its affection;
will be constant and return good treatment
in kind. And if the rat escapes,
the chance is strong it will return
from beneath the eaves, chattering,
turning its head to one side,
showing one red rat eye, unblinking,
entreating, freedom is not so much,
take me back in.

from: Animal Poems
© 1995-1996
Upcoming in New York Quarterly, 1997.

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