Almost skipping downhill
after work, I notice the dead rat
is gone from its spot. I miss it,

and wonder who finally took it
where. I must have walked past
a dozen times before registering

what it was, then another dozen
before nodding, the way we do
once we know someone by sight

if not name. Then we graduated
to the greeting phase: Good morning,
little dead thing, I’m off to the office,

ugh. Or: You’re looking more rusty
can today than scuffed leather, dear.
For the rat appeared (I forgot to say)

from the beginning, at least of my
noticing, juice-less, hairless,
less slumped rodent than flattened

armadillo. Why are we drawn
to our friends? Did she make me feel
beautiful? Lucky? Alive? I told her

about the cascade of white flowers
on my road, suddenly ruined one day
by the appearance of a tiny American

flag. The way she continued to lie there
said empathy, outrage. Could anything
be less nationalistic than clematis?

We understood each other. Naked
as she was, not exactly intact,
she had integrity, the quality

of being precisely herself. Her time
underfoot seemed privilege rather
than misfortune: no matter

that she lay downwind of barn—
police horses stabled there—the path
was hers. Oh, where has she gone?

Was it by hand or hoof, accident
or design? Finally I reach
the endless parking lot, climb

into my car. Remember her last
words to me: So, are you ever going
to quit smoking? Love a man again?

© 2001 Ellen Watson
from Ladder Music (Alice James Books, 2001)

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