Saturday, March 14, 2009


This poem is from 2006. It originally appeared in Bodhi magazine.

Waiting to cross Ninth Avenue
this morning, in the rain
I saw you there. I saw
the danger and wondered
why you didn’t run away.
With steel-belted radials thundering
past on either side, strangely,
you sat there. Then I saw.
It wasn’t that you didn’t
want to move, it was that
you couldn’t. Another car had
clipped you, your legs were useless.
You raised your head, looked around,
struggled, gave up, waited
for what would come next.
I wanted to jump into the street,
stop the traffic, do something
but what could I do? I watched
in horror, and looked away
each time a car passed, waiting
for the awful sound, the explosion
of fluids and tissues on asphault,
but each time you were still there.
My light turned green then, and I began
to walk. I hesitated with each step,
drawing closer to you and wondering
what could I do? What should I do?
Pick you up and carry you to the sidewalk?
No, I said, people do not do that here. People
in New York City do not pick up rats,
that is not done. And traffic would not stop
for you, no ambulance would come,
no animal hospital would accept you. As I passed
I stopped. You raised your head again,
looked at me, looked right at me.
By nature we are enemies, you and I.
Ever since we figured out it was you
who brought the Black Death into our cities,
we have been sworn to destroy you.
We have industries devoted to your death, people
in white coats plotting your annihilation.
But this morning you were not Rats, and I
was not the Human race. “God loves all creatures,
great and small,” I recalled from Bible School.
You were a small creature, soaking wet, pathetic,
crippled, waiting for an impossible reprieve.
“I do not want to die this way,” you said. “I do not
want to let you die this way,” I replied. But I saw
that you would never walk again, not even
if I broke with the whole Human race
and did the unthinkable, risking worms, lockjaw, rabies.
What I did, in the end, was worse. “I’m sorry,” I said,
and, reluctantly, I kept walking. I did not look back.
I prayed that your ordeal would end quickly,
that the next car would get you. I prayed
that you would find peace on Ninth Avenue.

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