She lived with us for nearly eighteen years,
the quiet cat—the only one we had
who never sprayed outside the litter box,
or drank out of the sink, or clawed the sheers
behind the curtains. Others got a “Bad!”
or “Good cat!” She just got her share of lox
and cat treats, but remained (most times at least)
below the radar, cuddling with a kid
at night or sunning outside on the deck.
The kids grew up. Our long-haired panther beast
with yellow eyes grew old. She often hid
in closets, under beds or, what the heck,
behind the TV—any place unseen
for napping undisturbed. She outlived all
her peers, accepting newcomers who came
to take each place, a quiet feline queen.
In slow degrees her health began to fall,
kidney disease, her rear legs getting lame.
One night she came, I thought, to say goodbye,
staying the night up on our bed, though that
was not her custom. Then she disappeared
for two, three days, preferring just to lie
beneath a bed deep in the darkness, flat
beside the wall, not eating much. We feared
this was her time to yield to fate and reason.
And yet she didn’t. Protests not availing,
we hauled her out to take her to the vet,
and nursed her back to life another season.
This she accepted gratefully—no wailing
at shots of fluids twice a day to get
her urine flowing, which we learned to give
with sterile needles, tubes, and IV bags;
the special diet; anti-phosphate powder.
A bond was forged from how she wished to live.
Each room had special bedding, towels and rags
laid out for her with care. Her voice got louder
(or better noticed now) and called hello
whenever we came in her field of view.
Each night she scaled our bed and licked our faces
till they were raw and gently we laughed, “No!”
She liked when we forgot that bills were due
and took her outside into sunny places.
She’d been our kitten; now she was an elder
who nudged our palms to stroke her head and back
or draped her paw on hand with purring charms.
She best liked when we picked her up and held her
as breath came harder, energy a lack.
She died last night. I held her in my arms.
I’m generally reserved, avoid what sounds
dramatic (though my wife’s a saintly nut
for anything with feathers, fur or scales).
I don’t like maudlin odes for hunting hounds
who help the writer blast things in the gut.
But if there is a God who never fails
to save what’s beautiful from death and strife,
I put it to you—which has more a soul:
a creature grateful for a sip of water,
showering affection for a day of life?
Or bored and jaded men out to control
more land, more wives, more wealth?
Godspeed, dear daughter.
—from Rattle #36, Winter 2011