? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 3

Poetry

Helen Wickes

Rabbits Keep My Father Alive


There were four: piebald, white,
a dun, one black. They have
multiplied. He leaves them loose,
and builds tunnels and lean-tos
against the tree trunks for shade,
with escape doors to the tractor shed,
and sets down little saucers of water.
He warns them about the owls and foxes,
but won’t cage them. And never tries
to touch them. This is all he offers—
companionship and snacks.
No protection.
The long summer evenings sneak up on him.
He snaps and tosses carrots.
His rabbits emerge shyly,
and eat in full view.
They rise and sniff,
the males slamming the ground
with their hind legs. The youngsters careening.
They have black currant eyes.
He talks to them about dead friends,
about his favorite dogs that died,
about his strange, aging children,
and his old girl friends growing plainer
and older by the week.
He tells his rabbits about landing
at Anzio, the sound of bombs,
the faces of the unsaved, the long ship ride
home from Naples. Flinging carrots,
he stumbles through scraps of Italian,
arias he used to sing.
He often imagines his own body
covered in rabbits’ fur.
It lets him feel his way into
the brevity of their lives.