V2:E8 August, 2000
FOR OUR DEAD CAT, WHOSE BRIEF LIFE HAS RECENTLY
BEEN COMMEORATED WITH A MARBLE HEADSTONE BETWEEN THE GERANIUM
BED AND THE RHODODENDRON BUSH IN OUR BACKYARD:
My brother Casey and I coddle you,
all the way home that first October night
on top of a pizza box, your paws piping
and tiny eyes glazing while we offer you cigarettes, Casey perplexed
and without appreciation for your infancy, ordering me
to throw you out the window, saying
this cat's no good he don't smoke.
We bring you home, put you inside a jack-o'-lantern (it is a few days before
Halloween), and leave you on mom's nightstand while she is sleeping
after liposuction. She hears you crying and awakens --
(Ah mom, remember when you stayed by our beds at night when we were flushed
with fevers and dad was always working?
Love this cat, we implore, but instead she screams and says she will stuff
you into the garbage disposal tomorrow while we are at school, I tell her to
go cut her ear off (she's an artist) and we take you downstairs to watch
television and wait for dad - who is a real sucker for animals, we've
learned over the years - to come home and invite you to stay, winking
I'll take care of your mother.
We are intrigued, as a family, by the way you
raise your tail to show off a smelly pink asshole.
Let me probe your tummies for milk, you seem to say, or I will piss and shit
on your beds at night.
We delight in obedience to you, and in return you curl around our shoulders
like a giant, clawed caterpillar and consent to play ridiculous games
with string and paper bags.
Mom begins to muse over your angles and indifferent expressions, decides
that the dog is no longer important and fits her with a shock collar;
you sit in our laps and follow us upstairs at night while the Cocker Spaniel
who once provided us endless slobbering joy is delegated to the kitchen,
the breakfast nook, half of the dining room. Bad dog, we say (sometimes mom even
kicks the dog, but she is just that kind of a person), and you look around
without interest, sending telepathic orders that we are unable to ignore:
Put stuffed antlers on my head and take a picture for the Christmas card.
One evening, while extremely drunk, I articulate my affection for you
by explaining to someone -- a neighbor who has crashed our backyard barbecue,
I think -- that I would probably kill a hooker for you, if that's what you
Our mother begins to feel that she must seduce and capture your essence:
Kitty kitty kitty, she calls, shaking turpentine and stretching canvas
to immortalize your silhouette,
making clandestine appointments to have the dog put to sleep - which we
always discover before it is Too Late - and sure you're afraid of her - she
is clumsy with affection and does not understand how to love a cat,
but when you die at four and a half one June day from a feline infection that is
quick and suffocating,
it is she who speeds to the Murrysville animal hospital and says while I
hold you in my lap if this fucking asshole in front of us would just step on
it, and tells the vet to do absolutely anything he can, which amounts to
a thorough autopsy: he shows us X-rays, your young lungs bursting with fluid.
We consider having you stuffed but my father remembers, while we are looking
through the yellow pages for a taxidermist, that he is a Professional
and should not partake in such bullshit.
What does it all mean, Cat? Mom develops your ghost in bright blacks,
orders the housekeeper -- who sends us a sympathy card that is embarrassing
and inappropriate -- to vacuum up and sweep away all traces of you.
One evening, while boiling asparagus, my mother looks at me and I understand
with startling coolness that children are not what she wanted at all;
this is evident in the way she has plotted to kill each of our animals but you,
and still -- remember, she wanted to grind up your bones when you first mewed
for her affection?
Dear mom, crazy bitch, I apologize:
my hips are not as slim as yours,
my nose needed breaking and professional reshaping (the summer after I
my breasts, you muse, are not quite big enough for my body, and sometimes
I slouch and am graceless and bite my lips in nervous excitement and chain
smoke, encouraging premature wrinkles;
certainly not a composition you would have liked
to take credit for.
In oils, you suspect, my face would be disappointing, cheeks a bit pudgy
and eyes too small
and Casey gets fat in the winter and has tattooed himself in a fit of youth
and you simply cannot fathom
that we may be your masterpiece
so you paint other people's children
(who have never called you from school, suspended for smoking a joint
in the bathroom or claiming, as Casey once did during a brief moment of careless
delusion, just for the hell of it, to be Jesus Christ)
and you paint the cat
who was flawless and silent and had a velvet shag inches thick
that you tunneled with smooth paints into a startling likeness
and who died because you,
neglected his shots, which seemed so
New Growth Arts Review 2001
Indiana University of PA's Promising Short Fiction Writer 2002
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