By day the bark peeled off in long hot
strips. By night the cats’ tails disappeared again
into grass. The voices ran them down, calling
and recalling the glade. By day the heat
of stretched-out cat bellies and, by night, cigarettes.
All day it rained, but it was only at night that the rain came
awake on the asphalt, and I pushed my chin
to the windowsill to breathe it, and the old tree spoke
in its sleep. I suppose I couldn’t ask for anything more.
But there were cracks—
Through the stone where the grass grew out. Through the night
where a scream spilled out. Every day I woke up planning
to steal a final strip of bark from the tree,
but by night I was looking again
for the troublemaker in the garden
and finding her with a twisted leg.
In spring the tree was cut down and falling.
Cut in the middle and taught about light
past its bark and into its bite. Into the soft red
apple-meat of wood. In spring I came home
to find the fence new and white. And I guess I didn’t know
that things would keep happening like that.
By day the bark peeled off in long strips. And when
it finally came, the slender evening rolling itself through
the gravel, the cool dark climbing down from the branches,
the streetlights quietly selected the moment
to turn on, saying gently, This is night, this is.
They said, This, the time when you breathe.
They said, This, the cat in the grass. And now
that the tree hasn’t spoken in years, the streetlights grow louder.
They say, Here’s the only tip I have for a lost thing like you
still hunting that cat through the weeds and the mud:
If you hang onto anything, hang onto me.