In the shed, her nest of branches, ragged cloth,
hidden behind some old suitcases; we scared
each other, her in a terrified scurry, me screaming.
It was the same summer I found German
cockroaches under the sink, when houseflies
exploded in a swarm, and maggots erupted
out of the garbage can, as if some curse
was wrought upon my house—in reality,
a typical Florida summer. In a manic snit
I’d cleaned the shed, door open, banging walls
to warn her off, sweat dripping off elbows, windows
pearled with condensation in the oppressive humidity.
I laid rat pellets, half sorry. Vermin, I told myself.
And normal people aren’t sentimental about rats,
not even poets. Through summer, frogs sang
in the dense woods while their slimy cousins
hummed and buzzed in chorus, and snakes coiled
and uncoiled in serpentine ballet, and neon green algae
bloomed over the pond, emanating an unholy stench.
I was disgusted, and I was impressed, by the vast, repellant
variety of the skittering, slithering masses. I never did
find the rat carcass, but I knew that somewhere, out
in the teeming darkness, the cleaners of dead things
had been busy working, completing their sacred task.
Lauren Tivey is a Pushcart-nominated poet of three chapbooks, most recently The Breakdown Atlas & Other Poems. Her work has appeared in The Coachella Review, Split Lip Magazine, and Third Wednesday, among dozens of other publications. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Flagler College, in St. Augustine, Florida.