My skin told me first, when I saw his picture. The cold memory of touch
a frantic messenger, almost swifter
than the optic nerve. My body remembers.
So I got into the shower, ran it scalding, breathed
the vapor like medicine, the mist a place to lose myself,
and the heat thinned my skin, showed me the lace of collagen
scars that he may as well have carved, the body
if you lifted the ax, and chopped me down, would you see in my bones
the circles of the story, the concentric record
of the lean years, drought and cataclysm,
the forest-fire cautery of mortal wounds.
Would the space between the rings show you
this hunger: the body just a vessel
for the sap of aching.
The White Cat
After Mary Oliver’s “The Black Snake”
It’s like Mary said. Because when that white cat
trundled on his young legs over the asphalt
and the car could not swerve—
death, that is how it happens.
Mother had been driving the three of us to school
and all of a sudden, at the sight of the white lump in the road ahead,
the car was filled with wailing
as if we, too,
were dying. We knew it was him,
than our little white cat?
She brought us
—shaking, heaving— back home.
I walked down our endless driveway,
with a plastic grocery bag crushed in my small fist
like a bruising flower, pieced my way along the shoulder
of that deadly road.
I looked long at his useless skull, half collapsed over his blue eyes,
his whiskers lying flat against his cheek, his clean feet
folded neatly, his lucent fur making him
a ghost already, my last memory of him smeared
into the asphalt, irreconcilable.
His body, like cold water, poured into the bag
a horrid weight with no one left to carry it
as the great cars rushed past us like mere exhalations.
I returned cautiously, one sorry step at a time,
careful with the bag, wary of the cars,
too naïve to wonder how it would be
to stride forward into the dark— weightless, dashing, madly
my own splendid light.
I pull my jacket tighter
and imagine my cold lips against his, his the colder—
while my hands grasp for his,
finding only thin bones clattering in my palms.
I mouth the words
of a song he used to sing, see the ghosts
rise from my mouth into the night
like prayers ascending.
The moonlight fills my eyes like water
and I wonder with rising panic
how any light will find him where he is,
whatever we call it, oblivion,
and will he be truly in darkness. Can I
go with him.