The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Paul Bone

Poem

                 for Brigit Pegeen Kelly

 

In this town I still say I’m from, one night
two boys played catch with a cat, a black cat.

They were the kind of boys who sewed eagles
to the backs of their denim jackets and smoked

a resinous weed with the density of a star.
It was difficult to see this cat near the end

of the dock where dark lake water caught
the cat each time they threw it in the air

and into the lake with its fuel and oil slicks
now invisible but palpable, most likely,

to the cat. And it’s truer to say they were
playing catch with the lake, because the lake

gave the cat right back to them each time,
exactly where they waited. The cat was easier

to see in the water, oddly enough, than it was
in the air. A light above the fuel station

at the end of the dock glinted on its wet fur,
you see. Otherwise you wouldn’t have known

it was there, for it made no sound while it swam,
only screamed when it sailed out over the water

and into the water, where it then went silent,
a shadow swimming in a larger shadow.

This enraged the boys, who took it as an affront
that the cat did not complain, so they threw it

farther and higher each time, and each time
the cat came back, trying to find a place where

the boys were not. There was no place like that.
It might have looked as if the boys guided

the cat back to shore, as if indeed the cat meant
to get back to them. It wanted to get back

somewhere, a box in a basement
next to a humming furnace, most likely.

It’s fair to ask why no one stopped this.
After all, I did punch one of the boys

in the face and knock him out. That was before
the cat, though. The timing was wrong, as much

as we’d like to believe he got his punishment
before his crime. Also, there were two of them,

one to bend down and retrieve the cat and one
to keep me away. They were bigger by then.

They may not have stopped growing, in fact.
They are giants. One of them now paints bridges.

I wish I could say a pharaoh commissioned
his work to commemorate a stone causeway

over the lower Nile, that along the bridge’s span
in subtle variations he painted the fine profiles

of cats in their eternal stillnesses. Instead, he hangs
by a harness over the highway and covers the sides

of each bridge with green paint. He makes
a good deal of money but little sound dangling there

above traffic. He has shaved his head, now grown
more pointed and delicate from hours in the sun,

perhaps, or from the way we begin here to picture
him transformed into the image of the creature

he has certainly forgotten. You might even say
he has come to resemble, in profile himself against


the bridge in sunset light, a fine-boned pharaoh,
his skin tawny as he awaits eternity, his ears

sharp and laid back this evening, away from
his family and dangling from the overpass. He turns

now in the harness to watch the sun descend
to a horizon shimmering in the heat like water.

He knows it is only corn out there, but in spite
of himself he sees only a vast green lake.

As when a river still flows in a flooded valley under
the greater body of water, so do the cars below him.

Perhaps just now he remembers the cat, which swam
under the dock but did not appear on the other side.

 

 

 

PAUL BONE teaches at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana, and is Co-Editor of Measure Press and Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry. He has published two collections of poetry, Momentary Vision of the Assistant Meteorologist, and Nostalgia for Sacrifice. Individual poems are published or forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review, Think, Cherry Tree, The Southern Poetry Review, Peacock Journal, and others.

 

 

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