Rob Carney: Cats & A Witch
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I will never, despite the spinning,
fly off the Earth.
It’s just not possible.
The grip that holds it all together—
all the oceans and coffee cups,
wheat fields and butter knives,
porches and the cats on them, cats
who’ve seen it all before;
all the mornings turning birds into music
and streams turning stones into music
and women turning me into music
when they smile, when they tell stories;
all the sunlight and shadows
and moonlight and shadows;
all the many moods of rain,
and so much more—those hands
keeping things together
hold me here, despite the unlikelihood;
despite odds of infinity to one,
they’re a surefire bet. Big hands. Galactic.
Hands building winds in the wind shop
then sawing some down into breezes.
For every thermal updraft,
fashioning a hawk.
Hands shaping mice in the mouse shop for food,
seeds and cones in the wood shop for food
with enough left over for forests and orchards
and maples for the pancakes of the world.
Or arranging flowers in the flower shop,
or inventing the smell of cinnamon,
or creating the flavor of peaches,
the purring in cats . . . none of it necessary,
no explanation or meaning.
Which means they’re an artist’s hands,
means you and I are paintings,
means daylight and darkness are our frame,
and we will never, even with the spinning,
fly off the Earth while we’re alive.
That’s a fact, but some facts are magic:
Like our minds. Like sex.
Like every evening the sun sets.
Like grapes are for much more than vitamins.
Like a cat’s tail, up and casually flicking,
is telling us the cat feels at home.
“What Are Your Skills?”
Every year at Sea School
we were taught that glaciers purr
and ice floes, huge
below the surface, were sunning cats.
Call ours a failed education.
If it makes you feel better,
call our hymns under night skies
But for thirteen years
we sailed on bluer water.
And all of us know well
how to arch our backs.
The lynx knows all about quiet,
his ears grown long to hear more of it.
He sharpens his claws on the trunk of it,
carries it home. And his paws
ghost over snowdrifts,
and lakes are asleep
under ice sheets,
and the stars seem frozen
like an orchestra, waiting to begin . . .
has anyone seen the conductor?
Where has she gone in her night tuxedo?
The lynx looks ready to tell us something,
but only in the speech of violins.
If I Hadn’t Drowned in My 30s, She Says, Today I’d Be 73
Madame Kafelnikov, my neighbor, is a healing witch,
but that doesn’t stop her from smoking cigars
and spying on the girls across the street,
their windows open at night when it rains,
when they light candles,
when their sky-colored curtains
float open in the wind.
She’s got binoculars
and a photo that shows she was lovely like that too,
so she ruined engagements,
so young men battled, she tells me,
breaking noses and jaw bones and knuckles to impress.
“I was like a Muse,” she laughs.
“I had the nicest body in Ukraine,”
getting me up to waltz,
calling me her Viennese, her mercenary darlin’,
her strong-backed, brown-eyed college boy with a smile.
She’s got a magical something, for sure,
divining water for farmers
when their crops start parching,
start drying up by acres and acres and miles.
And her pies are glorious, glorious!
And I’ve seen her run out naked at sunrise
to yell at the paperboy for teasing a dog on a chain,
then uproot that Doberman’s stake, cackling
at the terrified dash,
at the barking,
at the neighborhood suddenly clanking and jangled awake . . .
though cackling’s not right exactly;
cackle is what a hag witch does,
and that crap’s pure Halloween.
The Fire Chief’s wife’s been accusing her lately
of levitating cats into trees,
off lazy patches of sun,
out from cool garages light as dust,
just so much dandelions airborne,
meowing conspiratorially in the oaks.
Madame Kafelnikov’s a flirt, I’ll admit,
with the Fire Chief especially.
But sneering, “She’s a fat old spooky hussy,”
that’s plain wrong . . .
like digging for rumors,
like calling Amy and Ellen across the street dykes.
Amy gardens. When her sprinkler hisses,
the breeze on my porch tastes like mint.
I love to watch their laundry dry on the line: suggestive flags.
Ellen plays accordion
and smokes the most beautiful weed. Why hassle?
What use to anyone, finally, is getting in the way?
I’d hope to be remembered instead
for learning to negotiate with aphids,
for learning to intimidate hail, disease,
so they leave the wild roses by the side of my house alone . . .
noted for that, and this too: I listened;
I kept still and listened.
It got me that magic, a friend,
and peach pie, and the waltz.
Each time I asked how I’ll die, she faked aphasia;
once so long I thought she’d really had a stroke.
So I gave up.
She’d rather toast Pop Tarts anyway
and steep me with tea when I’m sick,
or take me to hockey games,
or set me up with her hairdresser’s daughter
when Maggie’s not gone on a dig.
“Paleontologists are hot stuff,” she mentions,
“all that sweatiness,
all that dusting off dinosaur bones . . .
you oughta call that girl,” and winks.
And I might. Maybe make a lasagna.
Maybe open a Cabernet early to breathe,
place roses to pollinate every room,
and know Madame Kafelnikov’s been busy incanting
if tomorrow I’m curiously unstuck
from Earth, dazed drunk, steering for tulip beds with bees.