Bats and Rats

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          by Margaret Sweatman


The earth is flat. It’s sudden, this tumble
And plunge to extinction feet first
(A terrible way to leave the house).

Domesticated, bats, rats, men,
Me and you in close quarters,
The world a ship off shore and

Sea sick, home sick, threatens
To land. The band won’t play.
What music will save us

Is the melody from the shifty man
In motley with his penny
Whistle. Follow, old children,

The piper with his rats
Off the pier at the edge of the world
And into the sullen sea.


At the dark heart of every war
Is a betrayal, singular, familiar.

The mayor refused the gold he owed
The piper, rat-catcher and musician.

Not a rat resisted but raced in pursuit
Of the piper’s tune to plunge, to drown.

A tall thin man, and no fool, he wore soft
Leather soles on the cobbles of the clean streets

To see the mayor, who cursed him.
Dyslexic, the mayor confused cure with cause.


It’s a shake-down, a mugging, our heads
In the muck, our feet kick helplessly, we run
On the spot of blue sky between the bars
Of our windows and the bars we croon

To the toaster and the bass riff from the fridge.
Singing songs of endurance and longing, we are
Masters of our mansions made of empty
Wine bottles, streaming.

The bailiffs have come and gone. What’s left?
More valuable than oil (well, that’s a cinch) and the gold
We’ve lost in this great upending, our on-line spending,
More valuable than the teller’s tongue?

                                                           The soul
Of the sage is in grubby corduroys on boys at play at the park,
Bicycles, baseball bats, unicorns and princess dresses, the glittering
Power in pliable bones that grow every hour, that grow.

This flat earth, this small, small time remaining
Yawns and stretches and swells beyond the garden fence
Where the long, indifferent night floods and ebbs.
Humbled, we are, and willing finally to relinquish our last coin.

Oh piper, piper, we will pay.
But do not take our children away.


copyright © Margaret Sweatman 2020