“Rat King” by Marty Cain

Marty Cain


The farmer finds one writhing in soil. Rat king: ring of black rodents tied at their tails, Rattus rattus, matted with blood in dirty circumstances—soil & suffocating excrement, gnawing the flesh of their brothers. The farmer eyes the Ferris wheel of rats. He strikes each one with a stick, slides cardboard underneath the king—calm as a scientist as he brings it inside. He sets it on the table, eats a TV dinner, chews half-thawed potatoes with eyes closed, remembers what his father said: see a rat king and you’re dead in an hour. The farmer pours himself some apple juice. No reason to be alarmed, he thinks. The rat king looks back: one king with twenty-two beady eyes, king as in king of chance under soil. Writhing universe. A death-induced blossom joined at the tail. See them as humans, twenty-two boneless legs. One hundred ten pale toes like a plate of raw sausages. Holocaust of rats leveling land like a bomb—eyeblink moment of subject to object, cotton/skin melting together, house to fragments we dared call home. Birthed itself. See a rat king and watch your molecules get divorced. Dance of death in a Swedish field, rat king of infinite atoms. King is a king is a king is a dirty rat, & since myth reminds us we’re near the grave, the myth says a rat king should make us cynical—but the farmer doesn’t fear death. A few rats knotted never hurt nobody. This is what he tells himself as he eats his potatoes, washes his plate, & finally blows out the candle.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014


Marty Cain: “Around the same time I began writing poetry, I fell in love with the work of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage. In his film The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, Brakhage graphically portrays a human autopsy, forcing viewers to confront their fear of death. In my own work, I hope to do something similar. I write poetry because it allows me to see decay—to see the beauty that arises from abjection. Gothic pastoral forever.” (website)

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