I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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It’s not just a cat dying
this time. It’s Love
itself, impaled in this blind
arthritic flea-bite female, whose
last hold on her destiny
stares out green dinner-plate eyes
that do not blink. The cat has not blinked
in all her eighteen years.
Our last pet — it’s come to this.
Love dribbles out, flesh
driven old and mad with it —
the boy gone off, the girl
grown — the dogs,
the other cats, countless fish,
the horned toad who died of a hug,
the ones that turned bottom up,
the ones that ran away, that ran
in front of cars, gerbils, a hamster,
a pair of ducks that never learned to fly
but waddled out of the yard (when
the steady V of wings beating north
was seen in the sky) and into the mouth
of the neighbor’s hound.
We went together to the spring near Eleusis,
where Aphrodite bathed to renew her virginity
after every act of love. I splashed cold water
on my neck, drizzled some down the front of my jeans
when no one was looking. The daughter back home
heard the stories from this place
her mother left her for,
and when kittens were born
— without father, without home,
without owner or welcome —
in the snaky damp crawl space
under the house, the dark
where no good child would ever go,
she named them Hermes, Hades, Aphrodite.
Aphrodite, born without invitation,
a wild thing. The nameless mother chose
to set down her litter here, where we wanted
pedigrees, wanted to choose our pets,
abort the mistakes, spay the extras,
wanted to plan which animals to feed,
to care about, to pay the vet
outrageous fees for, none covered by insurance.
Hades ran away, after his mother,
and with her entered the realm of darkness,
and Hermes stayed, the favorite, quick and charming,
killer of squirrels, the messenger, and
Aphro, well, she was dumb and we made fun of her
and she followed her clever brother around
and looked confused, but she grew long hair,
soft and gray and white as doves’ wings,
and was gloriously, pointlessly beautiful.
When she curled on the deck in the sun,
a background to frame her
would rush forward for the honor.
She’s still dumb and her geriatric cat food
costs fifteen dollars a sack, and this morning
she walked off the side of the porch
and fell in the aspidistra border.
We’ve had four mourning ceremonies
complete with songs, because we keep thinking
she’s dying, and she will soon,
I’m convinced of it. While we sit
for breakfast at our small table
with only two plates and not much to talk about,
Aphrodite, the back yard behind her
a graveyard of other pets, pulls
her front feet under, wraps her balding tail
around them like it’s a mantle of finest wool,
and turns her head toward us, locks her eyes
in our direction as though she could see,
and does not blink, will not look away.
Ava Leavell Haymon