In Pompeii we didn’t distinguish rats
from mice. Just mus maxiumus or mus minimus.
We didn’t know, back then, that rats tend never
to be without their kin—sure, mus maximus might eat
two of her litter, but she would never
leave the nest nippleless. I know there are people
who think Ren’s deranged. That he’s grown
by choice and not design. That he sways back
at the poppies near the edge of the yard
because he wants to prove something,
and not because they spoke first.
That I justify my half-pelt
by loving him. Sometimes I lift his tail
to a moonbeam when he’s been asleep
for hours—I imagine cutting it off, tucking its length
away, and waiting years, years, to show my future
dogboys: look, I’ll say, there’s some
crazy maxiumus out there for you, too. Just wait.
You’ll see. Before I knew a rat, I thought
there was only one of me.
Diem [toeing the watery mouth of another dead end]:
It’s like no one ever wanted to get anywhere
when they designed this place
and I always thought wandering was a southerner’s game.
After the eruption,
a whip in time until Diem woke in Venice, dead ends
somehow sensible after the quandary of the peristyle.
The chorus: After every trauma, stasis. Then, one by one, facts—
Latin is dead. Penises are not the only handheld device.
There are new plagues and policemen carry them.
Waterways are still waterways. Some sink others.
At daybreak, Diem sees a man in a robe in a water-taxi. Or is it a dog
in a sea of men? Diem hits another dog in the next dead end
this one on all fours though before he can turn entirely from the familiar
Diem hears a splash—not small neither frantic—a rat the size of a man
has jumped into the water, paddling towards Diem. [Where a rat
of this height comes from, the chorus hardly knows.]
Diem watches one long paw flop into the lagoon after another.
Graceless, he thinks, although it’s probably just his size.