Alan Michael Parker

Winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2003

The Cat



I have been trying to understand
whether this life is what we burnish for the next.
Or will we be undone.
Last week a feral kitten found me, and now,

mottled with ringworm,
she moans in quarantine in my kitchen
and hugs a catnip mouse made of felt.
A scrawny, contagious cat in a kennel—

she could be my heart.
Which is to say: yowl, darkness, prison.
Which is to say: aria, nocturne, home.
Which is to say: pushing words around,

the in-box and the out.
I named the cat Simone de Beauvoir.
Is that the name of my heart?
I don't even like cats,

which she pretends not to know.
What does my heart pretend not to know?
Working at love
means abandoning the burnishing.

When I first saw her almost dead in the street,
I sat down and waited.
She circled me, coming closer,
until I was stupid and put out my hand.

The two of us in the middle of the street.
How could she think I know anything,
sitting in the middle of a street?
Now near the end of her sentence

she scratches the plastic kennel to get out.
What could she know?
Which is to say: need.
Which is to say: fear.

So many poems about the next life.
To make the poem itself a moral act.
Which is to say: heaven.
Which is to say: a larger room.
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Katha Pollitt on Alan Michael Parker

A poem that makes rescuing a stray kitten the occasion for a meditation on spiritual perfection -- talk about risk! With wry humor, self-deprecating wit, and an engaging lack of pretension, Alan Michael Parker reminds us that a small subject can yield large rewards, when the poet questions it deeply enough.

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