The cat stares down from her new perch atop the living room bookcase. She watches us move about, wondering where she might be. She can tell we are getting increasingly frantic in our search as she is new here, and we are adapting to each other still. We look behind everywhere she might hide, but she is gone. She can tell we are getting ever more nervous. She lets out a whistle, drawing our attention, and seeing us see her, she nods, saying Here I am, foolish ones.
What I want to tell her is this:
it’s fitting, perfectly, that you
who so assiduously hid the past
from me, your past and mine,
now bars your entry, refusing you
even the briefest glimpse.
You want so to grab onto it
to have it carry you to a place
removed from here by time
and distance, where it is warm
and most of the time, cozy.
It is also fitting that you
call out his name, as though
he was in the yard
pruning a tree, delaying dinner,
the same he you cursed
glad to have him out of your life
and out of your house,
you wished him dead
so that you might call yourself
a widow and share
condolences with the other
black draped women.
You never mentioned
the six months of foster care
or the little sister who came
and went so quickly
when he had the audacity
to drop dead on you one morning.
This is what I would say to her,
this is the curse I would
place upon her
but she no longer
recognizes me, I am no more
than a well dressed orderly
come to remove her lunch tray.
First Published in Riding the Meridian 1999/1;2
The moon hid from me last night
in a cloudless sky, and only a week from full,
so we both knew it was there, peeking
for a brief moment from behind
the old oak in the neighbors yard.
It wasn’t the first time the moon
had done this, it will not be the last
either, I am certain, but I do remember
the time in 1970, the heat of San Antonio
in mid-summer more oppressive than usual
and only the old barracks
for the moon to use as hiding place.
Yet it hid, and that night I didn’t mind
Lying in the base hospital, where the nurses
ignored me for the seriously wounded, as they should
reading the orders issued that day transferring me
to the Reserves as my fellow air policemen
in my training squadron were calling home,
most in shock, to announce that their plan
to avoid Vietnam by enlisting would soon
be scattered on the tarmac of Da Nang Air Base.
Cats have more in common
with snakes that we care to recognize.
She said this with a straight face.
He wanted to laugh at her, but dared not.
She didn’t take laughter kindly
when she thought it was directed at her.
He calmly asked her to explain.
It’s simple, she said, with feigned
patience, both can slither around,
are expert at hiding when they wish,
and as you have now so clearly demonstrated,
much as Adam did, both of you the hard way,
both snakes and cats are smarter
by far than your average male human.
There comes a moment
when, if our backs
are turned, it will arrive
and if we notice it
and hide in corners.
We may see it
in the periphery
and sneak up on it.
If we move
quickly enough, we can
snatch it up
and watch it fly
off into the morning.
Do you have old Basho
hidden away in your home?
If you do, I will gladly
give him to you, but if he
is not within your walls, you
should produce him immediately.
If you need to cross the river
walk carefully on his back
on a moonless night.
If there is a moon, walk
along a darkened road,
hand him your shippei
and he will light your path.
If there is a pouring rain
you will both be soaked.
A reflection on Case 44 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)