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Elegy for a Rat

By Jon Sands

Poem

after Samantha Thornhill

If we cleaned you up, you’d look like
a hamster. The little girl on the platform
next to the pink stroller would ask
her mother if she could pet you,
and mom would say, Of course!
You are brother to the pigeon—
creature of the city
where ooze is your bathtub.
God didn’t make the sewers,
we did, but I can’t tell
if you’re grateful.
So what if there’s piss and rainwater,
the rot of month-old milk I poured
down the drain as if it were
an eraser. Poof,
my refrigerator was clean.
Crystalized exhaust from our pipes
and you call it home.
You got a couch at the crib
made from a soda can.
Tin foil pillow
with paper bag sheets.
You can learn a lot
by what a person throws away.
You should have a seat at the UN:
Ambassador of the Trash Can.
Instead I come home late,
you run to greet me from under
a mound of plastic bags filled
with rotten apple cores and empty cups
of dried yogurt. You scamper
across my foot—Me!
who craves touch,
who would hold a stranger
on the subway if the mood were right.
I squeal—drop the groceries,
can’t even look at you
but now you’re gone.
The moment seared into both of us.
I write this ode to you,
but don’t think about coming inside.
I pick up the phone—
you’re dead by the time I click end.
Deacon of disease,
tycoon of the trashcan,
sultan of the sewer,
you get a box
that says Poison
but you can’t read.

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JON SANDS is the author of The New Clean (2011, Write Bloody Publishing), as well as the co-host of The Poetry Gods Podcast. His work has been published widely, and anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2014. He is a Youth Mentor with Urban Word-NYC, and teaches creative writing for adults at Bailey House in East Harlem (an HIV/AIDS service center). He is the Program Director of the Dialogue Arts Project, and has represented New York City multiple times at the National Poetry Slam. He tours extensively, but lives in Brooklyn.

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