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This poem is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

Four Poems Michael Palmer


'The rats outnumber the roses in our garden. That's why we've named it The Rat Garden.'

A discussion of the sublime ensued. Aunt Klara served her ginger-peach tea. At ninety-six, many of her parts still worked. 'It is life that should inspire fear, not death,' she would say, quoting the Dietrich once again.

It was the first May Day of the new millennium, though no one could recall what that day meant. 'Perhaps it is the day when the rat lies down with the rose,' tiny Perdita remarked. All were aghast, as these were the first words she had ever uttered.

The skywriters were active that near windless day, their most frequent message, in cursive, 'Rats Rule!' Slowly the letters would thicken and belly out toward the east, then dissolve into illegible smoke.

The sun declined; the mayflies made their entrance, and the sedulous bats.

Then the great evening feast was placed before us: pea soup with pork knuckle; the little elver, baby eels, almost transparent, quickly boiled and served with mashed turnip; and of course the goose, stuffed with Nuremberg sausage, chestnuts, onion, chopped carrot and cream; and finally a Black Forest cake, that baroque confection of chocolate, whipped cream, sweetened cherries and kirsch.

It was over coffee and brandy, as the evening drew to a close, that Uncle Johann suddenly blurted out, 'I'm sorry, I know

I'm a terrible poet.' At that moment Perdita formed the second sentence of her inchoate life, 'All poets know they are terrible.'


Figures, what do they know
in those old books, asleep

in those brittle books? What do they dream
on the locked shelves, in The Book of Signs

and The Book of Delights, Queen Dido's book,
and the book we sought but couldn't find?

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