Readings — From the January 2010 issue

The Wisdom of Rats

( 3 of 4 )

Laws are passed, uniforms designed, theories float like butterflies over the mountains and valleys and deserts. Things are Mexican or things are American or people are settlers or pioneers or savages or aliens, men are outlaws or lawmen, boundaries are violated or secured, armies sweep through, order is insisted upon, revolutions come and go and succeed or fail and it is all under control at all times whether there is control or not. Havoc is disguised as police, violence parades as an economy, murder described as establishing peace or law and order, and the bugles blow, dust rises from the cavalry, warriors descend with lances and clubs, screams slash the blue sky and it weeps blood, governments tremble, the men gather on the mesa and puzzle out the science of mass murder, and the rains fail, cattle die, villages are put to the sword, entire nations of feathers and tongues fall dead at our feet, the books arrive—those histories—and all this is tidied up and made sense of, history becomes the final suicide where we block ourselves off from the earth, from the ancestors, from ourselves, and from the hungers that feed our dread. I go outside in the night and sit on the ground as it slopes toward the creek and rats appear and move all around me as the music plays in the house and spills out the French doors, yes, the rats mock the metes and bounds of my world and they have been here since before the beginning, were here when Cortés rocked on a ship off Veracruz dreaming of conquest, back then, even earlier, but certainly back then. The rats came out in the night and moved right here where I sit, a continuous thread of rats reaching far back with love and anger and lust and dreams and reaching past any place my world will ever attain, and the rats know but will not say what they know and so we must find out, experience the fantasy of power and control, and finally we will go under like every one of our kind they have ever seen and still they will come out in the night and move around, not making a sound, not a single sound, but move around and thrive as the creek purls along in the black love of the night. We must not play it safe if we wish to share the wisdom of the rats.

We stand on the deck, Cortés is pacing, it is early in the sixteenth century, an empire is in the offing, he paces, and within twenty years, men just like him will cross what we now call the border, as men have been crossing that line on our maps for thousands of years.

Our idea of history is the end of history, of tracking a concentration of power that finally reaches critical mass, and by an explosion of force solves all problems and ends all change forever, amen.

No rat has ever believed our history.

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