Itch

by Alan Jenkins

Read by John Graves

(The Flea’s Retort)

It must have been their first time—first shared bed,

A hotel off 42nd Street, so sleazy

It had seen stuff that made cockroaches queasy

And even the rats had learned to give head.

But these two were so young, so innocent,

They thought the footsteps that came and went

All night in the corridor, with whispers, meant

Someone was sick, or dead; and so they hid

Their guilty fears by doing what they did,

Three times, then fell asleep. That’s when I fed.

Not the kind of place you lie around

And wait for room service in the morning,

Rich on coffee smells. As day was dawning

They scratched their itch again; untangled, found

They were soon scratching at a different one

And this time the scratching was no fun—

In the struggle for survival, I had won

A little victory . . . Inflamed in parts

They’d barely known, with murder in their hearts

They hunted me; but I had gone to ground.

If words could kill me, I would not be here

To tell the tale—they raged, they spat blood libels

On my kind, they hurled their Gideon’s Bibles

At specks their maddened vision made appear

On sheets and tiles in that unhappy room.

Did they think it might have been their tomb?—

In a time of plague, the telltale bloom

Of red pinpricks, two bloodstreams joined as one,

Two lifelines cut off in a storm of fear

Before their years of bed-hopping had begun!

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/24/itch