Neil Hilborn, “For Henry, Who Has Just Died”, The Future

[image descriptions: text that reads:

“For Henry, Who Has Just Gone

Henry was my pet rat, and he died
last night in my hands. He was three
years old, which is way longer than

an albino rat is supposed to live. To be
honest, he wasn’t a very smart animal,
but he was so sweet that now I wonder

if intelligence has anything to do
with leading a good life. He had been sick
for a few months, and every twelve hours

I had to apply antiseptic and lotion
to both his back feet. By the end
they didn’t really work anymore,

so he would just drag his feet behind him in a way
so cute and sad that I started calling him my little
sea lion. When he died it was, somehow,

a surprise: you would think that when your rat
is older than older than dirt and has been sick for months
you’d be sort of prepared: after I had laid out the towel

and mixed the solution, I picked him
up and noticed his breathing
was s slow. I lay down with him

on the towel, the towel where we’d spent
the last few months, where I think we
finally, really, completely loved each other,

not like humans do: humans always want
something from you and he and I
would rather just be together than apart,

and I pulled him toward me, and he chittered in that way
that always meant he was wind coming in after a rain,
his head fell forward, and there was so much less

light in the room. The lamp was so far away,
like the light of a house to which there is no
road. I know, he was just a rat. So many

just like him, all white, red eyes,
die every day and only one or two people
in white coats are even there to see it.

He was all in white, he was always there
to see me. When I would wake from a nightmare,
so many nightmares, I would turn on the light

and there he was, holding on, a constant companion
to a prisoner, the prison being the apartment,
the world being inside his cage. Once I was crying

in bed because of who knows why, and he sat beside
my face and licked my tears away. I had a rat
once, named Henry. Named Buddy. Named Mr. Big

Mouse. Named proof that something could need me
and still love me. Named please
can I have some of your apple? Or I know

you’re sad but I’m hungry. Don’t go; if you go
I won’t survive: a child reaches for her father;
a couple, buried in ash, dies holding each other;

a man and a woman in an office, crying slightly,
sign sheets of paper; sparrows fall out of the sky together.
Some day I’m going to have a child. She’s going to have

eyes like mine and such small hands. Just like
she’ll need me alive then, she needs me alive
now; I can’t say goodbye before I’ve had a chance

to say hello. I don’t stare off bridges anymore.
I don’t count out little blue exit signs and even today,
with Henry buried under a tree, a tree somewhere so far away

it feels like someone else buried him using my body,
today I came home and only wanted to sleep
for twenty minutes instead of always. Something needed

me once, and I know something will need me
again. One day I’m going to have a daughter.
She’s going to sleep through the night

sometimes. She is a light on a rock
at the edge of a lonely see. You see that light
out there? That’s where I’m headed. That’s home.”

/end id]