When I was young I licked his forehead,
promising myself that he thought
I was his mother. Day after day, I wet
his fur with my mouth. It was unpleasant
to taste him, but I continued,
as mothers who love their sons do,
because I needed him
to believe my mouth belonged there.

There is a cat somewhere
whose instinct is wind,
whose body is an orange leaf
skittering across a road—
we know what happens
to hypothetical cats
crossing roads. Yes,
there are cats that make it
to the other edge this time,
but all cats stalk toward
the alternative—a snap—
even if the car is not a car,
but a cancer, bulbous
and too menacing to belong
on the forepaw, even if the snap
is not an instant of splinter sounds,
but a gentle squeeze—a hug,
at first—escalating,
as even gentle things do.
What we need is room
to interpret.

When a mother, maybe even your mother,
leaves a cat to endure wind laced with winter—
wind intent on nothing—isn’t that worse?
At least the car, perhaps the cancer, even,
had intent, which is a little like desire—
and desire, even with menace, has meaning,
which a dying cat deserves.

Years later, my own mother would tell me
how she watched me lick the cat,
how she allowed me to be weird—
there is blackmail in this nostalgia.

####

Reese Conner’s work has appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Third Wednesday (all of the Wednesdays, really), Metazen, and is forthcoming in Four Chambers. His awards include the 2014 Katherince C. Turner prize from the Academy of American Poets and the 2014-1015 Mabelle A. Lyon Poetry Award.