Bitter Charity by Jan McCarthy

he’s come look no don’t look
I just wanted to check
come from his den in the foxgloves
under the tumbledown bridge where cowards fear to tread
he’s there he’s there across across the street
bare hand in bin with gilded coat-of-arms
noblesse oblige for rubbish
lion rampant regardant, coatless he under cruel April snow
where is the coat we left him?

the watching curtains twitch
those who sat cosy, chicken dinners on laps
watching the Real News far far far away
safe distance suffering you are too too close
just outside and close enough to smell
but windows are tight shut, all doors tight locked
against you, the cold, the air that makes one think

what if he’s still there when we go shopping?
they say to each other as gravyed lips go twitch
they should have rat’s whiskers so should we all

he grins a rictus as he pulls it out
styrofoam box, toxic apricot nest
for probably overly sumptuous
chicken dinner we put there before
I’ll not watch now, give privacy to public deprivation

we’ll get it in the neck tomorrow we
from the neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Rat
they can say what they like we deserve all kinds of guilt
and it should be about him, not about us
ladle it on: the flavour is far from alien
but bitterer now, sticking in the throat
for some hot reason I had best decipher
for my own personal, lasting true salvation
but I fear I know: it all comes back to self

We’re such cowards! We should have taken his meal to the bridge;
invited him in to eat; set a dangerous precedent
Who knows what might come of that? Eh? Think!
Rape? Robbery? Murder? An eviction order?
Ah well in that case, friend, leave it alone.
The important thing is the roof over our heads.

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