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a rat in the subway

Mar. 31, 2014
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a rat in the subway,

                                    at the Van Ness Station, again

            after years not seeing one

underground in human space, now

                        in that exact place, the electric rail where

     the first car stops, this rat huge like the one I saw before, a

bloated wine bottle, rounded some at the sides, moving

            in bright light, slowly crossing the wheel tracks, sniffing

                        garbage fallen in its way, its right eye

                                    a brown blank, assessing what? a

     train screamed over it, a long train, and when minutes later

                 the train left, I moved to the edge of the platform

                        looking straight down, and there was the rat

                             beneath me, then suddenly it

                                    disappeared, the bundle of life now

                                         a thing, as its space became a place,

                                                the abode of a sentient being,


            when the next train screamed in, I boarded, the great

                        tunnels far ahead, far behind me, what of the rat?


                                    an awareness of space shared, we

                                                the rat and I knew, if no one else

                                                            a city here, ants and

                                                                        candy wrappers and

                 the horrors of serene understanding

                        engulfed, absorbed,

                                    the silence of a distant echo,

                                                the rat spinning in its bottle infinitely,

                                                            the glass seems to press against


                             our eyes crazy again

                                                                        somewhere! Somewhere

                                    catching a breath


Lewis Ellingham has worked, variously, as a writer, editor and genealogist. His books include The Birds and Other Poems (Ithuriel’s Spear, 2009) and, with Kevin Killian, the Spicer biography Poet Be Like God. He was born in 1933 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and moved to San Francisco at age 21, where he became involved in the circle of poets around Jack Spicer. On Saturday, April 12th at 7pm at Woodland Pattern, Ellingham and Jim Chapson will read as part of Woodland Pattern’s Milwaukee Poets Laureate Reading Series.


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