by Linda Lerner

The rats are out, a woman said.
I just saw one behind the gate;
there was an article about
rats in this park and around here,
the other woman said.  I know, I joined in;
my friend’s door man said that he
had to close the door at night
because the rats were trying to
get in; people blamed the construction
going on down the block.
That was a long time ago.
Well, they’re here now, the woman
said; I considered moving further away
from the garbage disposal can.
Early evening was also feeding time
for mosquitoes.  The two women
got up and left.  I didn’t want
to go back home yet.  It was hot
my apartment stuffy, and about now
they’d be sneaking out of holes
in the 6:00 news . . . When I was
growing up in Brooklyn people spoke
about rats where they worked; It seemed
everyone had one.  My father’s rat was
a man named Joe Cohen.  That name
kept coming up in his evening rants
to my mother, I saw talk of rats in movies
about the Mafia.  Someone spoke of
a sign warning people of rat poison
in an area I passed every day.
There was some confusion when a person
mentioned the increasing prevalence
of rats here and I thought they were
referring to people.  Once when I
complained of roaches an exterminator
told me to plug up all the holes, that
they can get into the smallest space.
Rats, too, I thought.  I’ve seen them
hovering around sabbatical holes
in one college where I taught, and
lurking in words like congratulations.
If rats can get into anything,
how would I know if they found a way
to get inside me?
Once I met
the wife of a man I was having
an affair with, and the way she
looked at me, was the way
that other woman just looked
when she spoke of seeing a rat . . .
That was a long time ago