Sick in Bed With the Cats

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.

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.

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.

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

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.


Voyager 1,
when it was launched in 1977,
carried on board a golden record
with the music of Mozart and Chuck Berry
and greetings to alien life
in fifty-five languages:

“Hello from the children of planet Earth,”
it said in English.
“May the honors of the morning
be upon your heads,”
it said in Turkish.

It’s difficult to beat,
“How are you all? Have you eaten yet?”
but my favorite is in Swedish:
“Greetings from a computer programmer
in the little university town of Ithaca,”
it says.

No one knows exactly why cats purr.
We assume they are happy,
comfortable, comforted, safe,
but vets report they also purr
at the moment of death,
after the needle is slipped under the skin
into the vein of the leg.

And studies show they purr
at a frequency that heals bone,
that a healthy cat will lie down
next to a sick one
and begin purring for it.

But they don’t purr when they are born,
and they’re born blind and deaf,
ears down, like lumps of damp dough,
spinning through space
in their own quiet world,
huddled up against that soft universe
of fur and flesh,
huddled against the mother
they can only feel
in their blindness,
in the deep mute well of the night,
eyes lidded,
eyes wrapped in skin and loss,
until three weeks or so along:


The root and meaning of all speech,
their own golden record:
It’s me.
I’m here.