A Story About Dying

Kevin Prufer
The old cat was dying in the bushes.
Its breaths came slow, slow, 
                                          and still
it looked out over the sweetness of the back lawn,
the swaying of tall grass in the hot wind,
the way sunlight warmed the garbage can's 
sparkling lid.  
                   It closed its hot eyes, 
then struggled them open again.

+

In unison, the dogs explained themselves
to the passing freight train.

+

I don't know where it's gone, 
her husband said without looking up from his paper

while she stood on the back porch shaking the food bowl,
calling one of its names.   

+

All this the dying old cat observed 
from beneath the bushes, its head
sideways in the grass, its fur wet where the dog
had caught it in its teeth.

+

And now there's another train, 
and the dogs are explaining themselves again.  

+

The food makes that sparkling sound in the metal bowl 
and the cat tries to lift its body from the grass

but it's feeling hollowed out, empty and strange
as though it's floating just above the tips of grass, 
as if its paws barely touch the blades' rich points.

+

Sometimes, the dogs explain themselves to each other, 
or to passing cars, but mostly they address the trains.
We are powerful dogs, they say,
                                            but we are also good,
while the children on bikes, while the joggers, 
while the vast, mysterious trains 
                                              pass them by.

+

The cat is still drifting above the grass tips,
and the sun is so bright the yard sparkles,

and wouldn't it be nice to rest there on the garbage can's hot lid, 
there by the potted plant, there on the car's hood?

But it wants the food glittering in the metal bowl,
the food that, also, drifts above the grass tips.

+

And then the cat floats down the tracks, 
the train's long call a whistling in its head.

+

And the dogs explain themselves to it,
we are good dogs, good dogs, 
                                        as the cat grows
impossibly far away, we are good dogs, 
as the cat is almost a memory, 
   
is barely a taste in the mouth 
of one of the chorus.

More by Kevin Prufer

There Is No Audience for Poetry

They wanted him to stop kicking like that—
it made their eyes corkscrew, drilled the sun in the sky
so light dumped out like blood from a leak.
The boy in the trunk wouldn't die.

They drove and drove, and he dented the trunk's tight lid,
called their names, then pounded the wheel wells
with a tire iron. The sun filled
their skulls so they felt like hell

and the boy in the trunk wouldn't listen. You'd think
it was burning hot in there, you'd think he'd be gone,
passive, but no. The boy in the trunk
banged on and on

until the noise grew godalmighty unforgivable
and they had no choice but to pull into the woods,
leave the car, try to hitch a ride with someone
quieter, someone who could

listen without interrupting. They'd had a hot day.
The road simmered to the overheated sky.
But from far away they still heard him, the boy
in the trunk, his empty cry.

In a Beautiful Country

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you'll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry

about the armies, says, We live in a time
full of love. You're thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.

Bread and Cake

The black Mercedes
with the Ayn Rand 
vanity plate
crashed through 
the glass bus stop
and came to rest 
among a bakery’s 
upturned tables.
In the stunned silence,  
fat pigeons descended 
to the wreckage
and pecked at 
the scattered
bread and cake.
The driver slept,
head to the wheel.
The pigeons grew
rich with crumbs.
The broken glass winked.
God grinned.