The Rat of Faith

In Animals, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Poetry, Revision on December 26, 2015 at 9:51 am


The boy with the one-year residency permit came over last night, bearing food gifts from the shop where he works. We talked about the boys with no rights whatsoever, and why he and many others avoided the people smugglers as much as they could.

For the ones who “made it”, for the ones still trying, Philip Levine’s poem The Rat of Faith. It kept me company during the writing of one novel. Life stories are novels too – many (most? of them), in search of an author.


A blue jay poses on a stake

meant to support an apple tree

newly planted. A strong wind

on this clear cold morning

barely ruffles his tail feathers.

When he turns his attention

toward me, I face his eyes 
without blinking. A week ago

my wife called me to come see

this same bird chase a rat

into the thick leaves 
of an orange tree. We came as

close as we could and watched 
the rat dig his way into an orange,

claws working meticulously.

Then he feasted, face deep

into the meal, and afterwards

washed himself in juice, paws

scrubbing soberly. Surprised

by the whiteness of the belly,

how open it was and vulnerable,

I suggested I fetch my .22.

She said, “Do you want to kill him?”

I didn’t. There are oranges

enough for him, the jays, and us,

across the fence in the yard

next door oranges rotting

on the ground. There is power

in the name rat, a horror

that may be private. When I

was a boy and heir to tales

of savagery, of sleeping men

and kids eaten half away before

they could wake, I came to know

that horror. I was afraid

that left alive the animal

would invade my sleep, grown

immense now and powerful

with the need to eat flesh.

I was wrong. Night after night 
I wake from dreams of a city

like no other, the bright city

of beauty I thought I’d lost

when I lost my faith that one day

we would come into our lives.

The wind gusts and calms

shaking this miniature budding 
apple tree

that in three months

has taken to the hard clay 
of our front yard. In one hop

the jay turns his back on me,

dips as though about to drink

the air itself, and flies.

Philip Levine


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