The Rat Of Faith

by Philip Levine

Philip Levine

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.

Last updated May 02, 2015