I CLAW MY SKIN UNTIL IT BLEEDS
prayer to the rats:
dear scuttling little ones, teach me
how to touch the fruit and the poison,
the rat-growth and the rat-rot,
with each of my four hands
and come out of it alive and many.
prayer to the vultures:
dear scabbed-head soaring ones, teach me
how to seek sustenance where i can,
even when it festers,
even when there are worms;
let me find life where others may not.
prayer to the opossums:
dear fang-mouth pouch-belly ones, teach me
how to go dormant,
if i must, when i must,
teach me to let go
if it would hurt me worse to fight.
prayer to the scavengers:
dear villains, dear scapegoats, dear kicked-head
buck-shot enemies of trashcan suburbia, dear
maligned dirt-revelers, tick-eaters, you
un-wasters, you of the efficient and necessary diets:
teach me how to turn this roadkill into energy.
teach me how to be death-unsentimental,
how to cherish the meat in my mouth.
the meat in my body. in yours.
OCCASIONALLY, THE CRUELEST MYTHS COME TRUE
Rat King scrambles to the Rat Church:
ribcage cathedral of the stretched skin ceilings,
pelvis made pulpit, crypt clawed from bone marrow.
Many rat feet leave greasy rat trails
between pews made of grass and down.
The Rat Pastor tells us that every Rat Church lives
in the body of a dead thing.
It is good that our prayers should float up through eye sockets
and tattered hide. It is good that we remember
that for the Rat Body to survive,
other creatures—bigger creatures—must live and die.
Rat Church smells like death. This bigger creature
was hollowed out twenty rat mothers ago,
back when this limb of the Rat Body had only just arrived.
Sometimes the Rat Body is better off split up,
the Rat Pastor tells us. Rat King did not always understand this.
Now they do.
Rat King does not talk about it: how they miss
the use of their tails, the privacy of being just one body,
just one mind.
The Rat Body gets stronger when burdens are shared,
but Rat King just gets sad, and sadness
is dangerous, when you are as many as they are.
So they don’t speak of it.
Rat King performs their prayers in unison,
twenty rat hands cleaning a hundred rat whiskers
as ten rat voices whisper the blessings:
May the Rat Mother Earth be bountiful. May the fruits and grains
and worms grow large, and may the Rat Body
outsmart the bigger creatures. May the Rat Body grow
wise and clever. May the Rat Body be ever grateful.
Ordinarily rat prayers involve the wringing of tails,
but, given the circumstances, Rat King feels that they may be forgiven.
It has been five seasons since Rat King was made into Rat King.
It took one season for them to learn to speak in unison,
two seasons to move together, three to learn how to sleep in shifts.
They tried to wring their tails for the first four seasons.
Here is a rat truth: nature is easy to change.
One limb of the Rat Body can change a landscape in a season.
The hardest part of becoming Rat King was not
learning how not to die. The hardest part was learning
how to live, changed.
Piera Varela is a senior at Smith College, where they’re an English sun, poetry moon, with theatre rising. They like weird, greasy, funny, scary poetry — poetry that their friends shriek at — poetry that they feel weird about reading in front of their grandparents. Piera considers themself a curator/magnet/prince/harbinger of the deeply strange, and basically everything they do is an effort to impress the person they were at twelve years old. This is the first time their poetry has been published! They’re very excited. They need you to know that in the photo of them here, they were having a lesbian breakdown in a Denny’s at 1am over that one pic where you can see Hayley Kiyoko’s nipples. You can find them online at @magpieras on Twitter, Instagram, and Society6, and they have a visual art portfolio website at magpierasart.weebly.com.