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“Rat Among the Pines”

Poet Roger Reeves at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival

As I have mentioned before, the highlight of my visit to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was the Poetry Pavilion, where I could sit in the cool shade on a hot spring day and listen to some outstanding poets. One of them was Roger Reeves, an Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Texas in Austin. The following poem, entitled “Rat Among the Pines” comes from his collection Best Barbarian, a finalist for the National Book Award. It tells in terse poetic language the violence of life in America.

Rat Among the Pines

Terror, tonight

Is the moon
Slipping from a rat’s gray grasp,

Finding its way back
Into the sky, which is America—

A white moon
Leaning on the night’s neck

With its hand in its pocket,
Moon hung calm above

Catastrophe, the police
Breaking the neck of a man

Who had just brushed summer’s
First bead of rain from his eye-

Lashes. Who—knocking a Newport
Against a wrist, watching smoke

Break its head against a brick
Wall—is preparing to die

Unaware they are preparing to die.
Heavy the moon, silly the tasking

Of a rat with delaying death.
Terror, tonight

Is the candor of the earth
Where someone is preparing to die

And the earth receives that dying
With its hands in its pockets.

And the moon that once burnt the silk
Hump of a rat, back in the sky.

And my daughter hiding in the rose
Bushes, asking who, who the sirens

Have come to kill. And someone calling
It beautiful—summer, moon—

And someone dying beneath that beauty,
Which is America.

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