In Cat Country
In Another Country
We took a shortcut through a small overgrown lawn
to reach a castle built by London architects in 1800.
Feral cats scattered, avoiding us, and mice scurried over
and under our feet. I had never traveled outside America.
You liked how I described my new surroundings,
the minute details I noticed. Cats watched us
from overgrown hedges. Stray dogs bared their teeth
while black snakes curled around their necks like collars.
I knew the snakes weren’t venomous but a dog bite
could be deadly. We stepped lightly and slowly
with no sudden movements.
I am going to have to say no
to my first son’s hawthorn
and no to my second son’s
ash. And that won’t be
enough: it’s almost December,
the boys’ bodies breaking
ahead for the trees, arms high,
tearing the rag sky to cinders.
She was our cat Bea
and she came here like we did
to rest. She will need their hands
and rain pooled by a firm
pine. Into the dirty waters of our dead
the ash that was flesh becomes
precious. Hard light drags its claw
through the brine. I find
a needled sapling and drop
the box, too square for her leaps
and hungers. My first son
kicks a rock and my second
lifts strips of sodden bark, mottled
like old fur, pressing them
in mud. He grabs the box. He sings
and digs his hands in.
He lurches and sings as if there can be
no grief: ash spills and whitens
his sneakers like snow. Now
our grief‘s a mess, nothing her needled tongue
would approve. The boys leap
for torn leaves. They can’t be sure
how they care. When I die
it will be November and the bodies
around me now will steam in cold
white air. My son’s sneakers
are red with the plastic blood
of superheroes and gray and white
with the memory of breath.
I am going to have to carry
him out of here: his feet will mark
my legs the way sparrows stain bark
with whistle’s ache, their song’s sour desire.
[first published in Conte]
Clear as Wings
The air is as clear as wings, and my lungs expand like balloons. I steal up my stonily empty boulevard with the concrete statues as my only witness, and their eyes blinded, or wounded—
and nobody sees me creep to Saint Xavier’s. Up to the top of the church I climb. My cat-limbs are happy, elastic, ascending the verticals; from the bloodied spire I dangle, one arm waving, daring the pavement to rise up and get me. Here is the church, and I swing from the steeple; there is the city, but where are the people?
I am high on my monumental monkey bar, holy of holies I’m happy, I’m purring, I’m rubbing my head on a pillow of stone—
“But you’re still no closer to the stars,” snaps the gargoyle, “and what have you brung me for food?”
“Brought,” I say softly, “I’ve brought what I ought,” and I lay down for him an offering, half wooden, half stone—
“Petrified,” says the gargoyle, his stone lips not yet used to speech,
and I say, “Don’t be,” and smooth his stone brow with all tenderness, and try to blow the smithereens away from his blind, stone eyes.
I Dream of Robert Lowell
He enters my home with dark hair and spectacles.
I offer him a place to sleep and a new roll of toilet paper.
He makes fast friends with a bashful household cat.
He sleeps in the recliner, trims his toenails in my bathroom
and musses the folded towels. Morning, he grumbles
over coffee, wearing a wrinkled t-shirt. We follow
the slow climb toward noon. I rearrange closets.
He takes a shower. One cat knocks over books
stacked beside the recliner. When Lowell notices,
he doesn’t complain or yell. One by one he resets the pile.
One by one household cats file into the room.