All Hands Lost
Even before the ship had started sinking the rats had come up on deck. They massed in the open and then at the order to abandon ship, swarmed onto the lifeboats, disregarding the officers cries of women and children first. In a matter of seconds the boats were filled to overflowing.
The crew was outraged and hurled insults. The passengers looked on bleakly.
The captain’s voice came over the loudspeakers, addressing the ship’s company of rats. He recognized that it was the custom for rats to be the first to leave a sinking ship, but not in the lifeboats. Their practice was to leap over the sides of the ship. He ordered them to vacate the lifeboats and leave the ship in the traditional manner.
The rats jeered.
A lone rat had remained on deck, standing erect, ignoring the panic and confusion. Its comrades called for it to join them but it refused.
It was determined to go down with the ship.
Suddenly the lifeboats were being lowered. The crew looked at one another in bewilderment. Nobody knew how it was happening: no orders had been given.
At least the rats would be saved.
As the boats began the descent the crew panicked and leapt overboard, catching hold of the sides of the boats.
Not a man left on board – only women and children.
The boats hit the water and drifted away, the rats gnawing at the hands clinging desperately to the sides.
All hands lost, the rats started singing courageously.
The women and children now jumped overboard.
The hero alone now on the bridge donned the captain’s abandoned cap and eyes shining, raised its tail in salute as the ocean rose up around it.
The last thing it heard before the water got in its ears was a great cheer from the lifeboats, but it didn’t turn to look – its eyes stared straight ahead – through water now.
that is extant
and every junction
and every tether
and every cleaver
and every lever
messages were mixed
tongues were wagging
lips were licked
teeth were gnashing
tails were flicked
fires were lit
skin was pricked
eyes were flashing
and in betwixt
licks and kicks
we were trimming
wicks – and wicks