I still hate myself for what I did, taunting feral
cats in the isolation room, a suede bite
glove. So cold, they hissed at the fog
of my breath, squeezed their bodies to kennel
back corners, yellow eyes flashing. I couldn’t leave
the door open for long; some loose, tore
bags of cat food, spilt kibble, bits of shredded paper bag
littering white floor. My fingers thumping wearily
along silver bars, knowing any second one could pounce
down the ten foot stack and maul me.
So I took a hose from the yard, dragged it as if choking
a snake, the long jade body writhing
and sticking to intolerant ice. I climbed
on top of the cages, my head at the drop
ceiling, poking through, running water
over the floor. The cats groaned, maybe afraid.
With my thumb over the flow, I doused every
pair of eyes I could see, the entire room dripping.
Feral cats scrambled up walls, drowned claws
scraping beige paint. I managed to detain
only two with a net, but felt triumphant even so, though
the cats were soaked and later died because of it
and the cold. I believed it was their fault, that I
couldn’t get near enough to dry or warm them and anyways
they were going to be destroyed, and I hated them
because they were homeless ungrateful bastards, who had
created other bastards to replace them before they got here.
Because they could look me in the eye with no shame
or request for love and it scared me, made me breathe
a heavy fog, because they couldn’t help their stiff
looks, bodies proud as African lions
defending an awkward, encased pride.
And maybe I can say I was thrilled
to torture them, tease them. A leather glove guarding
my fist. They snarled and swung out long
claws, curled around my hand as if
playing. I wanted to break that spirit.
—from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention