For Katy

- 1950-

When Milo was a kitten 
and spent the night
with us in the big bed,
curled like a brown sock
at our feet, he would
wake before daybreak,
squeak plaintively 
in his best Burmese,
cat-castrato soprano,
and make bread on our stomachs
until if one of us did not rise,
sleep-walk to the kitchen
and open his can of food,
he would steal under the covers,
crouch, run hard at us,
jam his head
in our armpits,
and burrow fiercely.

Probably he meant nothing by that.
Or he meant it in cat-contrary,
just as he did not intend
drawing blood the day
he bolted out the door
and was wild again
for nearly three hours.
I could not catch him
until I knelt, wormed
into the crawl-space
under a neighbor house
and lured him home
with bits of dried fish.

Or he meant exactly what he smelled,
and smelled the future
as it transmogrified out of the past,
for he is, if not an olfactory
clairvoyant,
a highly nuanced cat—
an undoer of complicated knots,
who tricks cabinets,
who lives to upend tall
glasses of Merlot.
With his whole body,
he has censored the finest passages of Moby-Dick.
He has silenced Beethoven with one paw.
He has leapt three and a half feet
from the table by the wall
and pulled down
your favorite print by Miró.
He does not know the word no.

When you asked the vet what 
kind of cat it was, she went
into the next room
came back and said,
“Havana Brown.”

The yellow eyes, the voice,
the live spirit that plays into dead seriousness
and will not be punished into goodness,
but no—

an ancient, nameless breed—

mink he says and I answer in cat.
Even if I was not
born in a dumpster 
between a moldy cabbage
and an expired loaf of bread,
I too was rescued by an extravagant woman.

More by Rodney Jones

The Language of Love

It has taken thirty-five years to be this confident
of what happens between the noun and the verb.

Eventually, love goes. The image. Then the thought.
No? Then you are still alive. Only a little. And then,

I do not mean to depress you. Men have to hear
before they see. Sacred vows. Dropped shirts.

Women do not speak to men. They are overheard.
Sadness mounts people. Around the burn-scar high

on one thigh, the body of the beloved will vanish.
And the come cries and salt hair-smells of lovemaking.

Secret fiction, holy matrimony, longest short story
the troth two lovers pledge to one another is none

of the president’s business, let him say what he wants.
He is no good with words. Ask any true lesbian.

He should take a poetry workshop with Adrienne Rich.
He should try using the world less and words more

The Watergate

For most in the United States the word brings a phase
when mortars in Vietnam still whistled around them
and the scandal of Nixon and his Machiavellian buds
poured from the news into their subconscious—I see
that Watergate too: the televised hearings, and in particular
one session—Sam Ervin had just asked Ehrlichman
or Dean or Haldeman, a long-winded, periphrastic,
left-branching question—it must have lasted
forty seconds and seemed three days before he paused
for effect, and Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman
answered: “Senator, could you please repeat the question?”
And he did, verbatim! And that is one Watergate.
 
But I think also of the morning my father sent me to the creek
that ran through our pasture to remove a dead calf
a flood had floated north to lodge against our water gate—
a little Guernsey heifer—I had petted her often—
Now flies buzzed around her, bloated and entangled
in the mesh—and I remember her eyes were open,
so she seemed to watch as I pulled first one leg
then another from the vines and wire that trapped her,
and pulled her to the bank through the shallow water.
 
Because the second water gate, which features the tender
relationship between a dead calf and a little boy,
happened twenty years before the first, in which men
break into an office complex in a hotel, I prefer its
posts and hog wire that kept cows from a neighbor’s field
to the gray rows of filing cabinets that brought down a presidency.
The water pours out of the mountain and runs to the sea.
Sometimes I say it to myself, until the meanings leave.
I say Watergate until it is water pouring through water.

Related Poems

To Zeke

O breathing drum, O cask of dark
waters, O decaying star, my
barking heart, my breaking brother,
what will seep into the space
your body leaves? O huge
eighteen-muscled ears, oscillating
ossicles and cochlea, your busy canals
now hollow caves of quiet. I have said
your fur is black, but you are
silvered, rimed with frost.
You are the new moon.
You are light in the dark house.
How long will I see your shadow?
O heavy hunk of existence, O great flank
I have rested my head upon
when I was too weak for human touch.
Sleek leading man, you debonair dog,
how people on the avenue stopped to swoon.
O splaying legs once faster than rabbits,
canines slashing flesh. Urgent thug,
unstoppable thrust. O happy snapping
at the wind. What do you remember
now that you are mud slide, glacier
melting, cliff collapsing into the sea?
I have memorized your milky breath,
your ballet leaps and whirly-gigging.
Your princely patience, as the children
dressed you—Soccer Zeke
in jersey and shorts, one paw on the ball.
Snorkel Zeke with mask and fins.
Bar Mitzvah Zeke in a yarmulke
and my father’s silk tallit. O my text
of decrepitude, my usher to death,
companion of ten thousand years,
I’ll fry you a fish. I’ll sit by your bowl.
Eat from my hand. I have nowhere to go.

Soave Sia Il Vento

after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In the wobbly pirouette between song
& dust, dog-nosed living room windows
& a purple couch that should have been curbed
last July: Saturday sunlight cuts it all every
time you lean into some kind of ballet pose.
Your belly & knobby elbow & leotarded knee
wavering in a slim balance. Jeté, effacé
I don’t know what they mean & nod anyway.
You reach & spin & dog hair hangs
in the air like the start of heartfelt applause.

Little George

                                   barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense white comma
of himself arced in alarm.
                                                   At home he floats
in the creaturely domestic: curled in the warm
triangle behind a sleeper’s knees,
wiggling on his back on the sofa, all jelly
and sighs, requesting/receiving a belly rub.
No worries. But outside the apartment’s
metal door, the unmanageable day assumes
its blurred and infinite disguises.
                                                                 Best to bark.
No matter that he’s slightly larger
than a toaster; he proceeds as if he rules
a rectangle two blocks deep, bounded west
and east by Seventh Avenue and Union Square.
Whatever’s there is there by his consent,
and subject to the rebuke of his refusal
—though when he asserts his will
he trembles. If only he were not solely
responsible for raising outcry
at any premonition of trouble
on West 16th Street, or if, right out
on the pavement, he might lay down
the clanking armor of his bluster.

Some evening when he’s climbed the stairs
after our late walk, and rounds
the landing’s turn and turns his way
toward his steady sleep, I wish he might
be visited by a dream of the world as kind,
how any looming unknown might turn out
to hold—the April-green of an unsullied
tennis ball? Dear one, surely the future
can’t be entirely out to get us?
And if it is, barking won’t help much.

But no such luck, not yet.
He takes umbrage, this morning,
at a stone image serene in a neighbor’s garden,
and stiffens and fixes and sounds
his wild alarm: Damn you,
Buddha, get out of here, go away!