Thursday, May 16, 2013
Rats along the Mississippi (St. Paul, Minnesota, 1958)
By the Mississippi in the early afternoon on the city-side of the shore,
bums and rats have left their litter and dung especially in the caves and crevasses— but debris everywhere: at night the place must look like a war-zone. But its
summer and school is out and I’m eleven, my friend Mike Rossert, a little younger, we always romp this area, along the cliffs below the city,
no trees just caves and crevasses, and humongous rats: brown with rustic fur, eyes that pierce like needles, when they spot you, hurrying
from the shadows beside the cliffs to the strange new light along the edge of the river. Steadfast I stand; let them pass—I say, soundless in front of me!
More often than not, —the bums are still sleeping, Mike and I kick them in the shins, the feet, trying to wake them—ready to run, but they just
toss and turn and yell, they want to be left alone.
This morning I’m alone, the rats follow me carefully with their eyes,
already lit, and sloped as if ready to attack.
Three rats today, some moving some hardly.
The air is dry, —far up the cliff is the City of St. Paul, inside those cliffs is like a fortress, old Civil War storage rooms, iron gates now locked, I’ve
climbed them many times, alone and with my pal.
Climbed and climbed and made it all the way up to the city proper.
But today, this
very day, I’m alone and the three rates facing me, grimly snarling, maybe want to devour me; no songbirds around, it’s a long summer, I step
back, slowly step back…back…back, back to the river, with my shadow and the shadow of the rats: they don’t attack.