Vermin

I never told anyone about the affair.

That night, after it was over,
after the thing had ended and he had gone back
to his girlfriend,
I came home and found a note from my landlord.
“Got your message about the rat,” it said,
“slipped some poison under the house.”

I threw the note away,
thought any death was cruel,
then went to bed early

to dream about a man sleeping
next to a woman
who wasn’t me.

When I woke it was to the sound
of the rat clawing
under the floorboards.

He must have been hungry.
Eating dirt from the bottom of the house.
Chewing up wood. A small thing with claws

like human hands, wanting to hold anything
it could find to fill a belly.
I knew he was eating what would kill him.

Later, when I got up again before dawn,
it was his dying I heard. His stifled voice coming
through the slats of the vent.

His rat heart going black as a boot heel.
The heat of his body stinking
through my floor boards,

like the smell of sweat left over in a bed.
I listened carefully. This cry in the dark.
How I woke to hear the rat consuming its own death,

How I learned anything can get so hungry
it will gnaw, even at the darkest parts
of someone else’s house.

Originally Published by Poet Lore, Volume 106, Spring / Summer 2012

Nominated by 

Poet Lore for the Pushcart Prize, 2012