They come home with our daughter
because there’s no one at school
to feed them on the weekends.
They are mates, and like all true
companions they are devoted
and they bite. We set their cage
on the kitchen table and wait
for the weekend to end, for our girl
to fall asleep so we can talk
about god while the rats lick
the silver ball that delivers
the water one drop at a time.
There are so many points on which
you and I disagree: the value
of a clean counter, the purpose
of parent-teacher conferences,
what warrants a good cry or calling
you a name so cruel I make myself
whisper it through my teeth. God
is the least of it. When I think
I’m so angry I could hit you
in the face, you turn yours to me
with a look of disbelief. The rats,
meanwhile, have turned up the volume.
Tick, tick, says the silver ball
as their teeth click against it, thirsty
as ever, thirstier still at night
when the darkness wakes them.
And during the day, when they’re curled
together in their flannel hammock,
head to tail, two furry apostrophes
possessing nothing but each other,
paws pressed together as if in prayer—
to what gods do they prostrate
themselves then? God of fidelity? God
of forgiveness? I lied when I said
I didn’t believe. Who—even me,
the coldest of heart—could turn away
from a sea parted, bread that multiplies
to answer need, water transformed
to the sweetest wine, the kind
that tastes better for each year
it’s been left in the barrel?
Copyright © 2019 by Keetje Kuipers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.