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Death of a Cat

ISSUE:  Summer 2019

Little beast on the metal table, she took
the needle into her forepaw 

and didn’t flinch. The medicinal death
fit itself inside her, ran the blue and red map,

burned up into her lungs and brain
and heart, which slowed,

and she slept until there was no breath left
and her body emptied itself of air.

A bit of blood showed at the nose, 
and as her warmth left, her lungs and throat

rattled a little which was the sound
of the earth taking back the quickness

it had lent her. Eleven years had passed
inside her body, all of them as my companion,

having found her as a kitten shut up
in a cage. These are the years during which

I have lost a great deal, while the cat watched
in her dumb way, unburdened by the need

to assign language to everything she sees.
A man I loved left, and the household

we built together became a private realm
populated by my singularity, the paper city

of my books, and by this cat
who patrolled the thirty-two corners of the house.

She occupied the place in my absence and my presence,
eating and licking her paws, shedding her undercoat

as winter folded back into spring, and insects and stray bats returned
as fodder for her games of cruelty. She knew nothing

of my nephew and the noose he slipped around his neck, 
leaning forward while seated on the floor, 

until the life was strangled from him
and he was found among his store of guns, a long knife,

the tight black clothing that he wore. Outside, Portland
kept winding past, with its bicycles and beer, pretty bridges

spanning a river whose name I don’t even know, a city image
of perpetual immaturity fixed like a young man

strained against a rope. Hope didn’t live there, 
with him, in the clapboard house he shared, 

and for some time it didn’t live with me either.
The cat didn’t mind, winding behind the woodstove

in the fall, when the first cold night sent me to split
some kindling and warm the old stones of the hearth.

She didn’t care about anything other than herself
and in this there was perfection—to eat and sleep, 

to find amusement in the hunt, to seek out the slant
of sunlight where it warmed the clean pine floors,

and to meet me when I came home, 
in a way that resembled love, how she came running—

hearing my key turn the tumblers of the lock,
even though I had trained her to link 

the sound of my arrival with the food 
I would spill into her bowl. 

There was bliss in this, to be met by a body
at the door, to be joined at night 

in a bed, her head within my reach,
inside which no words tumbled, no reasoning

wrecked the morning, no memory 
bound the missing to my single body

left lying nightly in the bed. 
In the morning I rise up again to go out

into the world, forgetting whatever images
flickered through the dim chambers

of house or brain, bed and book and hearth,
the smoke rising up from the stove embers

which, in the morning chill, 
and with my black tools

I stir back into warming life. 


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