Rabbits, rats, and toothless Welsh vets…
At three years old, near the end of his life,
my rat developed subdermal fatty tumors
the size of jellybeans scattered at intervals
beneath his glossy chestnut fur.
They slid around under his loose skin,
to any tissue not themselves.
They caused him no pain.
The vet I brought him to was an old Welshman
with an upper jaw that was tooth-smooth
and blank gummed when I first knew him.
He tried to save the rabbit kitten
I found in a shrub, a scrap of pelt
and raw hard bones that died shivering.
I knew he was good when he flipped the blank-eyed,
still-breathing body over, spread the hind legs
and pointed towards the odd, human-like vagina.
‘Female.’ His hands were white-knuckled,
furred with clear hairs. ‘She’ll not last long.’
And then he nursed her
with milk from a dropper
to prove himself wrong.
Now I took my rat out from the gray pocket
of the cheap hoodie I wore above my liquid skirts.
I set him on the table and watched
him sniff cautiously around the metal edge,
his fastidious hands and small brain encompassing
the brave new world he found himself in
that smelled so strong of prey and predators.
The vet had found some teeth somewhere,
a loose plate, he sucked them with a sound
that was startlingly old-fashioned.
Discovering past flavors.
My rat ran right to him,
stepped into that wide, flat palm.
The old man palpated a tumor.
Slid the soft shape beneath the skin.
‘He’s three years old and near the end of it.’
The vet stroked where my pet most liked it,
instinct drawing the nail to the gleaming patch
between translucent pink ears.
‘I could take them out, but that would hurt
more than heal him. You’ve done well, Bach.
He’s run a good span.’
I felt like it was God speaking.
It felt like God. The judgment,
the longed for compliment.
Acceptance of past failures
washed in redemption.
My rat came, reluctantly,
back to my hand.
‘The next stage is less pleasant.
There will be ulcers. They will smell very bad,
swell up quite large, obstructing his movement.
‘When they dry and have thoroughly hardened
you will be able to ease his pain,
if you choose to, by opening a scratch
with a heated pin, piercing the core
of it, and drawing it out.’
The vet looked at me,
implacable slate-eyes impossibly warmed.
‘The spent pustule will smell terrible,
like spoiled cheese. It will have that consistency.
The drawing out will hurt him.
But afterwards there will be relief. For a time.’
A few weeks later the first wound formed
large beneath the pit of a bird-bone leg,
balking hands he needed as much as I needed
my own to scribble out verses.
I waited a few days. Pierced it.
My rat struggled, trusting me enough
to refrain from biting as I loosed the core.
It did smell terrible,
but the arm could move again,
for a time, freely.
I flushed the white knob down the toilet.
Afterwards he licked the blood from my fingers.
Added to his den a few shed strands of my hair.
For a while, he lived.