On Language, Specifically Rat Language

You can blame my girls Juniper and Bergamot for this, but I’ve been looking at the writing exercises and thinking about language and translation in slightly broader terms.  Since becoming a rat mama, I’ve had to learn so much from my girls on how to interact with them, care for them, and respect them.  It is now my sole mission to somehow fit a poem about rat language into my portfolio, even if it takes hours to do so.  As for rat language, here are a few important behavioral markers I’ve picked up over the past few weeks:

  1. bruxing: when rats are happy or content with their surroundings, they do this thing where they grind their front teeth together (which are forever growing, btw) to produce a kind of chattering noise.  It’s hard to hear unless they’re hanging out on my shoulders, but it’s become a calming noise for me.  It lets me know they’re nearby, and also helps me pick up on what things they like.
  2. play-fighting: because they’re still wee babes and spend a lot of time in their cage-mansion, they like to mess around with each other.  Often this includes a lot of squeaking and chirping that surprised me at first, but actually just means they’re having a good time and hamming it up.
  3. nibbling: much like human babies, rat babies chew on everything to figure out if it’s safe to eat/edible.  Apparently, the girls don’t know my hands and fingers aren’t on the menu quite yet.

As for how this relates to poetry, I think that it’s important to remember that poetry can sometimes be non-verbal.  While we often assume words are necessary to poetic expression, I’d like to think that poetry can stand in for what language itself cannot express, and that is why sometimes finding the correct combination of words to stand in for one word or feeling is so important to the way poetry is formed.  Long story short, I might be including the following lines in a writing exercise:

elongated yellow teeth tip-tapping, grappling with one another

pink clawed hands help mouths feel for food in whorls

shcruffshcruffshcruff mumbles below my earlobe

throw emotions into sharp relief

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