Making a Rat
I forget everything, and make a rat.
With little ambition at first, an amateur,
I try a roof rat – grey, long tail, sharp ears -
But with a will that staggers the human mind.
For months I labour on those teeth, that jaw
With strength enough to gnaw through beams of wood;
For years on end I fiddle with those ears
That make the lowest noises stand erect.
I give up dinners, seminars and sex
To breed the things it carries in its mouth -
Those strains of typhus, rabies, fever, plague.
I give up sleep for weeks to make its eyes
That pierce the darkness as I slowly work.
All day the mind will multiply itself
Just dreaming of a whisker hanging right,
A foreleg muscle tensing for a leap.
My mother dies, my father turns to drink,
And churchbells grow threadbare warning me;
And then one day the postman brings a book
Wrapped in brown paper, without card or note:
One Hundred Reasons Not to Make a Rat.
I put in longer hours, buy classy tools,
But still the rat won't work. I'll try again -
This time a Norway rat, eight inches long,
And from today I'll get it right from scratch.
I have my knives, my books, a practised hand.
Don't worry about that, I'll get it right.
How remiss of me to not have made an effort at Kevin Hart's work. I knew 'The Members of the Orchestra' (and love it) but had hardly come upon his work at all. Or if I had I suppose I promised myself that one day I would get around to it. And then op shopping recently I came upon Flame Tree: Selected Poems (Paper Bark Press 2002) and that day had come. (Inside is written 'For Gayle with all good wishes, Kevin Hart July 2002.') (Who is Gayle and why did she off load such a splendid book?) A Selected is an excellent way to feel as if you have truly delved into the span of a poet's work. Kevin tells me it was reissued (revised and with more work) in 2015 as Wild Track: New and Selected Poems (Notre Dame UP) so available for your delving needs, without haunting op shops in the hope Gayle had taken a job in Brussels and dumped all her books before heading off.