Sick in Bed With the Cats

i.
Like ragpickers they keep the cut sleeves
of men who have loved them:
the sleeves of prayer robes,
coarse jute,
French cuffed gingham,
drooled on gabardine.
They are not trophies, these bits of cloth,
they are bedding.

ii.
I am pinned sick like a swallowtail
by treacle-colored cats,
one at the head,
the other through my belly.

Liam kneads my stomach
the way a crust-eyed baker works dough,
expressing the memory of milk,
memory of sun in night sweat,
four o’clock black silk.

He tucks his head in my armpit
for the pheromones.
Our cycles synchronize.
I take to sleeping through the day.
If I could, I’d curl in the old rocker,
chafing in the winter sun.

iii.
To make a ginger tabby poultice
you will need fresh ginger root,
a cotton bag, a wooden spoon.
Place grated root in bag,
boil in a liter of water,
throw out the stinking thing and instead,
apply cat directly to the head.

iv.
That old lie about cats
sucking the breath from babies —
they only do that
if there is not someone older
or more innocent.

v.
I become a cat head god,
rubbed raw,
red as a strawberry,
my seeds on the outside,
my wounds plastered with honeycomb hung
under the browning yellow of the light.
I find a cave, a closet they have all forgot
at the back of the Salvation Army shop
and make my bed in pea coats
smelling of the alley piss and three-day pass,
jackets of kids shot young
for wearing boots and hoods,
blouses shucked by lovers in the park,
and find a cave and rest,
healed, whole, waiting
for some unspoken good.

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