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Philip Levine - The Rat Of Faith

A blue jay poses on a stake 
meant to support an apple tree 
newly planted. A strong wind 
on this clear cold morning 
barely ruffles his tail feathers. 
When he turns his attention 
toward me, I face his eyes 
without blinking. A week ago 
my wife called me to come see 
this same bird chase a rat 
into the thick leaves 
of an orange tree. We came as 
close as we could and watched 
the rat dig his way into an orange, 
claws working meticulously. 
Then he feasted, face deep 
into the meal, and afterwards 
washed himself in juice, paws 
scrubbing soberly. Surprised 
by the whiteness of the belly, 
how open it was and vulnerable, 
I suggested I fetch my .22. 
She said, "Do you want to kill him?" 
I didn't. There are oranges 
enough for him, the jays, and us, 
across the fence in the yard 
next door oranges rotting 
on the ground. There is power 
in the name rat, a horror 
that may be private. When I 
was a boy and heir to tales 
of savagery, of sleeping men 
and kids eaten half away before 
they could wake, I came to know 
that horror. I was afraid 
that left alive the animal 
would invade my sleep, grown 
immense now and powerful 
with the need to eat flesh. 
I was wrong. Night after night 
I wake from dreams of a city 
like no other, the bright city 
of beauty I thought I'd lost 
when I lost my faith that one day 
we would come into our lives. 
The wind gusts and calms 
shaking this miniature budding 
apple tree that in three months 
has taken to the hard clay 
of our front yard. In one hop 
the jay turns his back on me, 
dips as though about to drink 
the air itself, and flies.

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The Rat Of Faith - Comments and Information

Poet: Philip Levine
Poem: The Rat Of Faith
Volume: A Walk with Tom Jefferson
Year: Published/Written in 1988
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