Allison Joseph: Ode to the Naked Mole Rat

Hairless, nearly sightless,
cold-blooded bucktoothed rodent
roly-poly as sausage, you burrow
six feet below in arid soil,

sensitive to touch but impervious
to pain, bereft of the chemical
that gives skin the sting
of acid, stark pain behind.

Exhaling carbon dioxide
in your cramped underground,
you are the only animal
that shows no response

to such searing burn, oxygen
in such scant supply to you
scientists speculate you evolved
nerve fibers with no verve,

no capacity for pain that lasts.
How I envy your dark
havens, quiet anonymous lairs
where you feel your animal nothing,

almost useless eyes beady slits,
skin wrinkled as an elephant’s,
a coat of gray garbage bags.
How many days have I wanted

to tunnel deep where no one
could find me, eyes tight
against light, fat body
waddling? The air

that sustains you
would kill me, but we
are still mammal kin,
vertebrates negotiating tunnels

as if we know what we’re doing,
know what paths to pursue,
despite our blindness and saggy
skin, our fiercely ugly claws.


Allison Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she’s part of the faculty in creative writing at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as editor of Crab Orchard Review, director of the SIUC MFA Program in Creative Writing, and director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual conference for high school-aged writers. The author of six collections of poetry, she has received awards and fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council.

Also read At Rochman Memorial Park