The cat sits in his basket like a fat hen
brooding over eggs. I remember my mother’s
complaints about being sent to fetch the eggs
each morning, the way the hens would peck.
But if I reach my hand under the cat,
into the warm fluff of his belly, I could not know
if he would purr or bite, could not choose
that over the swift predictability of hens.
Then you get your feet set right push and glide
and the ice rolls out behind you like a satin ribbon
and you don’t stop sliding past every line
past the walls go clear past the ice and the man
renting skates looks up from his magazine in surprise
and puts down his banana flip and stares and you go
past him and into the parking lot and your car and past
every driver on the street with a mochachino
and the street is cold and slick and you are silent
as a ballerina posed waiting for the music to stop or begin
and no one told you how to slow down or how
to stand so you stay crouched lunging
slide across the county across the state
you’ve stayed down for hours and days
your toe perfectly pointed and your hand
light as a feather on the stone but you will confess
your left thigh is twitching tired and your right
knee is inching farther down and then you look
up at the instructor and find you’ve gone three feet
and then the stone is gone and your ass is on the ice.
The exercise was always in the chase.
I think the yellow fuzz hid eyes and legs
that helped the balls skip underneath the fence
and skitter down the street. My mother sighed
and listed on her racquet, rarely used
for anything but sending us to fetch
and shook her head and watched us scurry too
where mothers now might fear a car. But there
was nothing there but silent tar and sun
and dogs that were too smart to chase along.
You see it in a picture, stand on your head,
imagine how the walls might meet at that angle
though it’s obviously impossible. Impossible,
too, that someone deliberately chose that color
for the wall, somehow both green and orange,
so strangely furred, and didn’t think to make
the bed or tuck the litter box away. But you can’t see
the dozens of beer bottles smashed in the back yard,
the sound of bigrigs on that hilly corner braking,
the weird smell of that weird plant someone homed
in the garden’s many weeds, or the way
the neighbor’s deck puts him at crotch level
to your kitchen window, so you’re doing dishes
and hoping he only has clean, clean thoughts.
Each April wheels around, and I am shorter.
My head sits lower on my neck, my boat
a little lower in the colder water.
Frog and Beetle
I stalk around confidently smart, sapiens sapiens smug,
but every pre-Whoed Horton thinks he is alone.
I never had the strength, my hands deep
in the tough and tickling grass. Something
in my elbows always gave way and dropped
me on my face. I lost a tooth that way, the swift
collapse of arms and then my open mouth
jammed into the ground. Some grass went up
my nose. That’s how I remember it, again
that attempt to race along upside down
bipedal, someone nameless gripping my feet
like loppers in a gardener’s sweating hands.
But there were too many other crashes, too many
other teeth dangling bloody from a doorknob’s string
or smacked on the monkey bars. And the ones
so patiently worked loose, twist, shove, the grip
of flesh finally letting go. Oh, I had dozens,
all of them right in the middle, in the front,
and each a dramatic tale of failure, of triumph,
of tripping and falling, of losing my balance,
and finding strange new spaces in my memory.
I remember holding my hand up
to his hand. A photograph or drawing,
or perhaps some Hollywood display
deep in cement. My hand is big,
no delicacy to its wide, square palm
like Mjolnir at the end of my wrist.
But his dwarfed mine, oh not like
Smilodon’s teeth my teeth but like
Einstein’s thoughts my thoughts.
Which, on further reckoning are more
Smilodon that I was admitting.
The deaf cat chirrups to me, to himself. Curls
his paws all tucked under warm against the deep
fur of his chest. I can’t tell what he knows, that
I can hear, that my eyes turn to him not for
the accordioning of his ribs or the puff of his hot breath
stirring the air? He knows eyes. There is something
he watches for in reply to that sweet, sleepy sound—
if he can be sweet, between the bounding and biting, between
rattling at his food dish, upending it smugly or sneering
turning a rumpled shoulder—something in my face that says
it’s okay to fade, to let those eyes (he knows eyes,
he understands light like a drunken physicist, seeks
photons, meets any gaze) drift on shut.
So who is it who looks at me, hears me, wonders
if I know what I’m lacking, if I know that I throw
something like a soft sound unheard and unsensed
out into the world, waiting for them to make eye contact?
It’s right that the feeling of CO
should be fatigue, that the exhaust
should. It’s fitting that I am
brain-fogged in my living room
wondering if there is something
hiding in the air that makes
my eyes cross. I stare out
across the street at the cars
oozing by and breathe and know
that each powerful stroke
of that engine pushes my brain
deeper into something that has no scents.