Poem of the Week, by Elizabeth Acevedo

img_2654That photo over there to the right is the very long tail of a very large rat that ran over my bare feet as I stood at the stove cooking dinner. The story behind the tail is one of intrigue and horror – me sauteeing vegetables at the stove while chatting with The Painter who was seated behind me, me suddenly feeling a squirrel or a small cat run over my bare feet, me shrieking and whirling around to tell The Painter that a squirrel or a cat had run over my bare feet, The Painter trying desperately to contain his horror because he had witnessed exactly what ran over my bare feet and rats are not cats. 

Here’s a writing exercise for you: Write about something that the world considers ugly but you secretly think is beautiful. The results might make you feel the same way I did when I read this stunning poem below.


For the Poet Who Told Me Rats Aren’t Noble Enough Creatures for a Poem, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Because you are not the admired nightingale.
Because you are not the noble doe.
Because you are not the blackbird,
picturesque ermine, armadillo, or bat.
They’ve been written, and I don’t know their song
the way I know your scuttling between walls.
The scent of your collapsed corpse bloating
beneath floorboards. Your frantic squeals
as you wrestle your own fur from glue traps.

Because in July of ’97, you birthed a legion
on 109th, swarmed from behind dumpsters,
made our street infamous for something
other than crack. We nicknamed you “Cat-
killer,” raced with you through open hydrants,
screeched like you when Siete blasted
aluminum bat into your brethren’s skull—
the sound: slapped down dominoes. You reigned
that summer, Rat; knocked down the viejo’s Heinekens,
your screech erupting with the cry of Capicu!
And even when they sent exterminators,
set flame to garbage, half dead, and on fire, you
pushed on.

Because you may be inelegant, simple,
a mammal bottom-feeder, always fucking famished,
little ugly thing that feasts on what crumbs fall
from the corner of our mouths, but you live
uncuddled, uncoddled, can’t be bought at Petco
and fed to fat snakes because you’re not the maze-rat
of labs: pale, pretty-eyed, trained.
You raise yourself sharp fanged, clawed, scarred,
patched dark—because of this alone they should
love you. So, when they tell you to crawl home
take your gutter, your dirt coat, your underbelly that
scrapes against street, concrete, squeak and filth this
page, Rat.


For more information on Elizabeth Acevedo, please click here.

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