White Rat

Gayl Jones

February 9, 2024 
The following is from Gayl Jones' White Rat. Jones was born in Kentucky in 1949. Her books include Corregidora, Eva’s Man, Mosquito, and The Healing, the last a National Book Award finalist and New York Times Notable Book of the Year as well as Palmares, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the recently published The Birdcatcher, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Black Peruvian saint yes I would go into his room but he wouldn’t believe me when I said I was Jesus. Like the feel of my belly band. They say I’m wrong in the head. All these things I can do. My name’s Dora, she said. Dora with the glass of milk. I can metamorphosize myself into anything you want. No, I’m Joseph. Joe if you like. I don’t like Kafka. He walks too fast. Won’t turn myself into an ant. A plate inside my head. Do you like me? Yes I do do do. Go inside me and I’ll be.

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Harpsichord sounds narrow. I take her into a little room filled with sounds against walls don’t bother me. This is what I’m making. Steven, I like your sister. Made it up out of a ritual. Stop and put my hands in the air. Want her hands on my back. Dora will you marry me? Yes I will. It’s so quiet here. Go out in the street alone. Sit down in a chair with a peanut butter sandwich. I’m all wrong in my head. Pull out a chair for me.

We are still all friends, aren’t we? Nothing to worry about I’ll make you little tea and crackles. No cheese sandwiches and bread and cheese and wine pour it in your glasses. It’s all right. Why you looking at me like that? Nothing wrong with me. Put it inside of your belly.

Make my head a restricted area so bad in there bother me somebody come in my room and don’t say it put it inside my eyes. I been to the Mediterranean.

I live downtown. A little dirty place in the back of a hallway. Come see me. You can wrap yourself up in my brown blanket if it’s too cold. I’ll wrap myself up in it too. I cut little pictures out of magazines and put them on my walls.

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Some cheese have some cheese. I have little olives and cucumbers. This is my room. come sit by the window. There’s a couch there and some bread. It ain’t bad in here. What do you want? My hands folded. Very glad you came.

Swallow it all down in my glass rush down in my belly. Swallow it all down in my belly till I empty it out. What do you think of me? Stick an olive in my mouth. Squirt the juice on my tongue. Make you a sandwich. Here, eat some of my sandwich. I’ll walk down the stairs with you and show you how to get out of here. Is anybody watching me? Why don’t you have some wine?

Watching me watching where I’m coming and going. Who are you to make me not understand? I’m here to save the world too, my slender legs folded under me. Come and go too. Don’t be angry. Are you very angry? Then I’ll run away from you. Don’t worry me. I’m already depressed.

The night is inside fingering me like a chord. Where are you Dora? Yes down there. I been in jail then they thought I was on drugs but I said I wouldn’t be on drugs because my daddy was an alcoholic. Nobody came to bail me out. Go out on bail. And my mama was a. Hold you in both of my arms till I hurt you.

Laugh and kiss your neck in a new ritual of marriage. Fingers down your back.

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Tranquilize my eyes. More than your hands on my loins and forehead. Go away if you can’t do it. Bricks on the floor. Purge your belly by eating nothing. Knock my door down. Save me with your kisses. See myself embarrassed by your fingers. Milk on a chair. I won’t sit down on it. Fold yourself into me. I’ll have more than milk. Kiss me, my eyes, my forehead, every place you can. Enfold me, put more than your arms around me. I lie on my back and sleep, your eyes in my belly. What are you, a man or a woman? I stroke your back and sleep.

Symptoms in my hair. What have I got that makes me so angry, then sad. So angry then sad. I can’t say I love you just now. Love in my belly. It laps like a tongue. Let’s talk as much as we can. Climb over me. Sleep with your head on my chest.

An incoherent letter from me. I am doing angry. What did they tell you? Why? Because. No, I won’t tell you that.

My breath comes hard even with tranquilizers in my belly. No, I won’t tell you that. I won’t bother you even with my eyes. It’s all in my mind. Don’t take me away. Put an overcoat over me in the cold.

They think I’m on drugs or something. I wouldn’t do that. My daddy’s an alcoholic. Got me sitting in this chair. Put my feet up in this chair. Why did you bring me here? Because I. Feet caked with dirt. Don’t look at me. Do I know you? I don’t know you. This is all in my eyes. I don’t even know you. Come back here with me. Dora called you didn’t she? Said I was. I didn’t say anything to her. I bet she said I was acting strange.

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“We all used to do weird things when we were kids, but it has to be something pretty serious for accusations of insanity being brought against us.”

“Shut up. I don’t know you.”

Report back when I report back. Come down the hall and get me. Stop by my room. Don’t you trust me? Yes, she came to see me with her hands in her eyes. I love you, Joseph. Inform me.

“What about your father?”

“He doesn’t like me.”

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Reach up and touch my palm all the way up to my wrist get in a car and drive away. Silence there. Get inside me. Climb up in me. I’m worried. Run my fingers down her neck. I’m listening.

“Don’t bring my father into it. He doesn’t like me.”

Worry in eyes that glance at you and feed you coffee. Insist that I’m thinking. Don’t be nervous. Cut your nails down to the quick. Large eyes with dark lines under me. Ask me some questions why. He comes and spends almost three hours with me and questions me. Eyes in my belly.

Don’t bring my father into me.

Ayesha, my Madonna I imagined before I saw you what you would mean. Eyes in my belly. Don’t go away. Alone here, but it’s not bad. A beard outside my window. Eudora when I raise my head. I pray looking upstairs.

Joseph made a mistake but I’m all well all right. A metamorphosis inside my head. I’m all ready to go. Sit down in their seat with them there’s nothing I want to say to them.

“Are you all right, Joseph?”

“Yes, I’m. It’s not cold in here why do you light the fire?”

Go into my closet but don’t take me out. Things is good in here. The coats is warm.

“Are you too cold?”

“Naw. Feed me some coffee it will go down to my belly and I will be okay. Don’t feel guilty. It’s not bad in here. I keep saying prayers.”

Yes Dora, yes Dora you mustn’t feel sorry because I’m in here. Was. I don’t drink coffee anymore. Bring me some Burgundy for dinner. I will sit on top of that little table and drink it because I’m changed.

Coffee in the living room settle yourself down over coffee.

“I didn’t think you’d change.”

“I don’t like coffee anymore.”

Laughing, laughter, it seems like a long time. I don’t like any coffee please don’t light me a cigarette I don’t smoke puffs going all inside my head.

Trouble wouldn’t come out I wouldn’t come out and write you down all these things. Do you remember me? Yes, like all my visions. Discuss myself up to a point. Hold a grudge in my hand. Why don’t you stay, Dora? No, because then you’d get worried. No.

Stay and hand me some wine. I’ll wear a gray coat and grow me a mustache. What are you suspecting? Expecting? Alarm me with cookies, put tea in my belly. Calm so calm down in my belly potato chips and wine. That man with the bush that’s my uncle but I know he’s not. Strange feeling I got inside me.

Tell me something I expected that will make me feel good inside. Find out who I am.

Say something you are supposed to say to each other and find yourself a culture. Find yourself inside me somebody I’m telephoning to tell you who I am and go out my door. I hope the rain don’t catch you. Fragmented water on my beard. It would please me very much if you would stay. Feed me tranquilizers and come in to see me.

Something I am doing something I am doing. Feed me my wine. I will run around without any clothes on so you will know who I am. Come inside me. Everyone will know and find me out. I wouldn’t tell you. This is the way you see me. My eyes in the attic.

Come to confessional. You can do it inside your own head. I’m not an old man. Come inside and see what I believe vaguely, a purple chair. I can climb out your window only if I’m already inside. Come inside my house I will tell you who I am. I have become. Hands under Dora’s skirt. Bad head I have a bad head fingers inside a book.

“Put your head in my lap.”


Yes I’m tired find a pillow, an arm around me.

I don’t want to become like Avrahm, my father. Wrap me up in myself. My words will work your magic. Are you starting to go? Yes, I know you. Everything you told me. I’ll help you find your way out.


From White Rat by Gayl Jones. Used with permission of the publisher, Beacon Press. Copyright © 1977 by Gayl Jones.

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