Of Hearts and Rats by Oliver Smith



The Rat-Witch, Lorelei, stood by the shore.

Her lover had gone to fight in the war:

to fields where metal churned men into mud,

where air was poison and rain was blood.

Sweetly, she sang to the rats in their swarms.

Beguiling, her song pulled them under the fjord:

dragged down with the crabs and down with black weeds;

dragged down to rot beneath rolling green sea.

“Lorelei, my love,” the sly Rat-King called

from a great ship anchored in the cold fjord.

He wrapped himself up in flayed human skin:

a picture of elegance, so handsome and grim.

He twirled his fine whiskers and corrected

his tie, tipped his top hat at an angle quite fine:

“Lorelei, the Rat-Witch, you’ll soon be mine.”

When her prince went away to fight in the war,

he left Lorelei, the Rat-Witch, his long steel sword.

“Lorelei, Lorelei,” the sly Rat-King called,

so she cut him and sliced him, split him in four

But a rat king is many rats together in one,

so a dozen times ‘round her the rats did run,

then they knotted their tails right back into one.


She tried him with henbane poured into his tea.

She waded in rat blood up to her knees.

She tried with a gin trap’s razorblade snap,

with cyanide, glue boards, bullets and shot.

Still the King, he rose, escaped from the grave,

all tangled with veins, nerves and hex chains,

kidneys and sweetbreads, guts grown back again:


“Lorelei, Lorelei, your prince is all gone,

buried in bits in the mud of the Somme.

Fall in my arms, and teach me your tricks:

the magic, the spells and rat-witch’s rigs.”

Rats flowed ‘round him like the spring tide:

“Rat-Queen you’ll be, if you agree to be mine.”

So, Lorelei, Lorelei like rock in gray stream,

Hung her head low as she started to scheme.

He called up a Rat-Priest to marry them then,

oaken altar placed high in cathedral den.

With golden tiara, his newfound bride

stood close to her husband, biding her time.

“Dear Rat-King, oh, Rat-King!” Lorelei hummed,

“Let us polka and waltz ‘til daylight comes!”

Lorelei fed him on barley beer and cheese:

That night in his arms, so sweetly she keened;

Sung a lullaby until he took his rest;

He fell fast asleep upon her pale breast.

Insensate and unconscious, he tossed and he heaved:

a nightmarish visage, deep in his dreams.

“Lorelei, Lorelei!” he gurgled a scream.

She gathered the blankets to wrap him up tight:

a serpent’s tooth needle shining steel-bright,

thread from the shrouds she stole from the dead.

The Rat-King cried out as he slumbered in bed.