Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Rats!

Afew years back David Bottoms, who looks for all the world like an Oklahoma-peanut-farmer-turned-hippie, came out with a collection of poems titled Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Won the Walt Whitman Award with it. Published by Morrow. Nominated for a Pulitzer. Bigtime stuff.

I was rereading Shooting Rats one day and ran across Dave’s title poem, which describes how these good ol’ boys, loaded on whiskey and beer, would go out to the Bibb County dump (on the Georgia poetry circuit, I believe) and shine their car lights out over the mounds of refuse and unlimber their rifles on the rats too dumb to keep their eyes closed. See, young rats’ll stare with both eyes at a light every time; the older ones will use only one eye, and you don’t know whether it’s the right or left, so you can’t decide what side to shoot on. You shoot and you either miss completely, maybe clip an ear, or you hit them right between the eyes, but you can never be sure. Clever they are, old rats. That’s why they’re old. The young ones are dumber than frogs. They’ll stare at a light even on a moonlit night, while a frog won’t—and there’s another story.

Dave describes how rats react to a head or gut shot. Not pretty stuff. But if you’re going to read a poem about shooting rats at the county dump, you’re not in a mindset for aesthetics. Rats and garbage dumps, taken together or separately, generally don’t make the Chamber of Commerce brochures. As a matter of fact, they seldom make poetry.

Well, what I’m getting around to here—and you’re probably saying, “Finally, thank you, Jesus”—is my own rat shooting back in Mississippi when I was a boy. It was my earliest exposure to guns and hunting and high finance.

At age twelve I was a professional hunter.

I put that on a line by itself and italicized it to let the gravity of the message sink in.

-100-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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