Muskrat · Cuyahoga River

The Muskrat Makes His Bed

by Catherine Wing

O. Zibethicus!

To the man who asked what I am good for,
a few words. It’s true my ancestral name
is unfortunate—two rough things unkindly
brought together—but while you can’t speak it,
musk is my language and rat’s the size of my tongue.
Also, my ambition. What you don’t know
would fill my burrow and its underwater entrance
twice over. With my extraordinary lung capacity
and my glossy underparts I made Hinterlands Who’s Who.
In 2012, it was my famous lodge, den, and bed,
that earned me Wetland Designer of the Year.

It’s true I eat sedge and cattail.
It’s true I lap up pondweed and duck potato,
bulb and tuber, and if forced
I will stoop to snail and salamander.
It’s true I am swamp and bog inclined.
I’m not picky.

My family’s ancient and well-represented
in the fossil record. I am rumored to be descended
from the Balkan Snow Vole with whom I share a molar.
I can swim backwards and I can hold my breath
for a full 17 minutes. Are you good for that?

I am not a beaver and I am not a rat.
Call me what you will but I am native.
How rich for you, destroyer of habitats,
to accuse me of destructiveness, to blame me
for your leaking pond. I understand
that you think yours is the only story to tell
and that your way is the only way to tell it
but I have news for you.

Musk is how I sing, talk, love, woo, and warn.
It is my sign of bigger things yet to come.
You can’t ice me over or push me out.
I will defend my bed, my burrow, and my craft.
Afterall who among us in this world
is not born blind and furless, given a name
by others and called to account?

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