In Our Garden Of Earthly Delights

To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can't or won't determine
What's best to rid us of our vermin!

Robert Browning:  The Pied Piper Of Hamelin

From the top of the hayloft ladder, a rat
the colour of rotting timber staring
down at him as he reaches for the next rung,
the concentrated, feral eyeballing,
fearless, hostile, ready for anything,
that more than sixty years ago made fear
cry out and his arms almost lose their grip
on all the time he’s had to live since then.

There’ve been other encounters with rats:
a moiling mass of them scavenging
uncollected plastic garbage bags
outside a restaurant; a single file
of scrawny, soot-black individuals
slipping through a crack in the tunnel wall
of an Underground station like skulking,
low-life criminals on the run from justice.

Not that they have it easy. He’s seen them
trapped and spitting in metal cages,
finished off by dogs, skewered with forks,
their leathery hides stuck to the road
like patches of infected skin, and once,
one Big Daddy of a buck rat still alive
and kicking between the jaws of a python.
Nature in the raw, blood-red in tooth and claw. 

Ken Head

If you have any comments on this poem, Ken Head would be pleased to hear from you.