“When I Think About Cats” by Francesca Bell

Francesca Bell


I think about that Spokane basement,
how the cats went nuts
shitting all over the concrete floor,
and I was sent down to clean it.
Some of it came right up, tidy handfuls
of shit, but some was diarrhea
dried hard, so I had to slop puddles
of hot water and bleach
on those spots and wait,
nostrils stinging, for the mess
to soften. That was the year
I turned 12, when my family’s boozy
heritage arrived in burning-tongued
waves on our shores.
So when I see in The Atlantic,
these years later, that T. gondii,
cat shit parasite, can lodge
in a rat’s brain or a person’s
and make them crazy,
I flash back to bleach, liquor, vomit,
all the stains that refuse
to budge. I know metaphor lurks
here: how the parasite can live
in rats but has to get back
into the belly of a cat
to reproduce, how it highjacks
the brain’s circuits until
rats are aroused by cat urine
and find themselves milling around
in the open like women
who walk bad neighborhoods
after dark, and those male rats
lucky enough to get lucky,
infect the rat mamas,
and 60% of their pups are born
yearning for what will kill them.
And still I find myself wanting bleary men
better passed with my head down,
and I don’t want to know
who I am in this metaphor—
cat, rat, parasite—and who
the men may be, lined up like bottles
in a liquor store, mesmerizing—
their breathalyzer-blowing kisses,
their bodies straining to enter my body,
their fluids to make it past
the gates at my very center,
and my DNA waiting
with its thirst like a hole
and the edge of that hole a cliff
I look down from always,
where my wildness bubbles up
like the fizz of fermentation
or water that’s too hot
to hold still.

from Rattle #51, Spring 2016
Tribute to Feminist Poets

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Francesca Bell: “I wrote ‘When I Think About Cats’ after reading Kathleen McAuliffe’s article ‘How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy’ in The Atlantic. We had cats when I was growing up, and it was my job to clean their litter box—a task I failed constantly to complete—so the cats took to using our entire laundry room floor as their litter box, which expanded the scope of my chore considerably. McAuliffe’s article about the possible long-range effects of infection by the cat-borne parasite T. gondii got me to thinking about those long afternoons cleaning the laundry room and about the way so many of us, like T. gondii-infected rats, end up most attracted to what can cause us the most harm.” (website)

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