Home > Animals in the City > Mice of the London Underground

Mice of the London Underground

April 24, 2013

by Robert Peake

I. Covent Garden

Scruffy, ardent, fairy-tale dustballs,
your inheritance is meek—

precocious vermin, grey as soot,
you thrive on our absentmindedness—

a pastry crumb is as good as a seed,
soda stains as sweet as spring water.

There is black grease for mud,
trains instead of thunderstorms.

A crisp packet descends, relief aid
touching the helipad too late—

the rookie makes a dive, on instinct
to dislodge it. The train passes over

like night, like war, unstoppable.

II. King’s Cross

Every day, I look out for you—the movement
of shadow under a rail, along the ribbed
wall of cabling that spans the tunnel.

Some estimate you are half-a-million strong,
mice of the London Underground, which
sounds like a call to unionise, and see

how fast a childish fascination can turn
political? I only wanted your soft, coal-
black presence in my dull commuter’s life.

I only wanted to know how you coexist
on a mouse-wide bridge of cable, under
a humming metal track, when the train

announces its arrival by pushing the wind
into your conical face, and do you suppress
the urge to flee, lying stiff as a railroad tie?

Terror, for you, has become the only routine.
A wife stiffens at the late-night key in the lock.
A soldier salutes his orders into no-man’s land.

And you, soft sickly creatures, born
in darkness, live invisible and shit in places
where angels, on pin heads, could never stand.

The train squeaks to a halt in the charcoal tunnel.
The driver reassures us over the speaker. I listen
for you at the window, like a mother at her crib.

III. Farringdon
(after a prank notice about attacking mice)

Tuck your trousers in at Farringdon.
There, tiny lions will nibble your toes,
run up your suit leg and scar pantyhose.

They’re eyeing your soft ankle flesh,
gnawing through news of the Eurozone debt.
Pull up your socks to avoid the attack.

Don’t be a victim, secure your slacks.
The scavenging creatures outnumber us all,
just waiting for someone to fall.

Believe what is written on the train notice board,
and eye with suspicion the fluff on the floor,
the vermin at Farringdon are barbaric hordes.

Farringdon first, and then the whole world.
It starts at your ankles and ends at your purse.
Parasites in the shadows, waiting to lurch.

Tuck in, tuck in at Farringdon. Tuck in
on your way to the bank. Believe what you read.
Small creatures glare out from their greed.

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Robert Peake grew up on the US-Mexico border and studied poetry at UC Berkeley and the MFA in Writing Program at Pacific Univeristy, Oregon. He now lives just outside London, England. He writes about poetry and culture on his website at RobertPeake.com.

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  1. April 24, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Creepy and fabulous. I especially like the bit about the wind on their conical faces, and the stanza that begins “And you, soft sickly creatures”. Doubt if I’ll ever see a scurrying métro mouse quite the same way again.

  2. terry fernando newton
    April 24, 2013 at 10:07 am

    ROBERT poetry highlites culture very well give you a real insight of life in that area shows he is a watchful person..national writer/talent reveiwer/highliter of people/poet terry fernando newton

  3. robertpeake123
    April 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Thanks both for your thoughtful remarks. Glad both the imagery and social commentary spoke to you.

  4. Joseph Millar
    April 24, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Awesome, especially the rhymed section — so effective, coming at the end, when there’s
    not much to do or say except for the singing.

  5. Natalie
    April 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Wonderful set of three Robert. That’s what I love about your poetry; what you notice and what you write poems about, and how effectively you convey the entire experience. These might be some of my favorites and especially the rhyming stanza.

  6. April 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks both. Indeed, as Seamus Heaney said, “I rhyme / to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”

  7. jbrush
    April 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I really like these, especially the sense of compassion you convey for these creatures living in darkness. The last stanza in Part II especially struck me.

    • Robert
      April 30, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Thanks, J. I’m particularly fond of them.

  1. April 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm
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