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THE RAT OF FAITH / Philip Levine A blue jay poses on a stake meant to support an apple tree newly planted. A strong wind on this clear cold morning barely ruffles his tail feathers. When he turns his attention toward me, I face his eyes without blinking. A week ago my wife called me to come see this same bird chase a rat into the thick leaves of an orange tree. We came as close as we could and watched the rat dig his way into an orange, claws working meticulously. Then he feasted, face deep into the meal, and afterwards washed himself in juice, paws scrubbing soberly. Surprised by the whiteness of the belly, how open it was and vulnerable, I suggested I fetch my .22. She said, "Do you want to kill him?" I didn't. There are oranges enough for him, the jays, and us, across the fence in the yard next door oranges rotting on the ground. There is power in the name rat, a horror that may be private. When I was a boy and heir to tales of savagery, of sleeping men and kids eaten half away before they could wake, I came to know that horror. I was afraid that left alive the animal would invade my sleep, grown 56 · The Missouri Review immense now and powerful with the need to eat flesh. I was wrong. Night after night I wake from dreams of a city like no other, the bright city of beauty I thought I'd lost when I lost my faith that one day we would come into our lives. The wind gusts and calms shaking this miniature budding apple tree that in three months has taken to the hard clay of our front yard. In one hop the jay turns his back on me, dips as though about to drink the air itself, and flies. Philip Levine The Missouri Review · 57 BITTERNESS / Philip Levine Here in February, the fine dark branches of the almond begin to sprout tiny clusters of leaves, sticky to the touch. Not far off, about the length of my morning shadow, the grass is littered with the petals of the plum that less than a week ago blazed, a living candle in the hand of earth. I was living far off two years ago, fifteen floors above 119th Street when I heard a love of my young manhood had died mysteriously in a public ward. I did not go out into the streets to walk among the cold, sullen poor of Harlem, I did not turn toward the filthy window to question a distant pale sky. I did not do anything. The grass is coming back, some patches already bright, though at this hour still silvered with dew. By noon I can stand sweating in the free air, spading the difficult clay for the bare roots of a pear or apple that will give flower and fruit longer than I care to think about. 58 · The Missouri Review ...


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