CAT OF DEATH
To keep warm, the cat snuggles up to the people
who are about to die:
death has a certain heat, an intensity in the body
fighting the now-inevitable
or trying to depart with a last bit of fire.
It’s not all about the blanket,
but it’s not exactly about love, either.
At least at first it had nothing to do with love.
Over time he’s developed a sense of responsibility
to the elderly that surround him,
a duty to comfort people
before they lose their 21 grams of soul.
So when one family kept him away from their dying father
because they thought the cat’s absence could somehow save him,
the cat didn’t eat for a week.
The father still died.
The elderly themselves are divided
in their opinion of the cat.
About half of them dread the sight of him,
always thinking he might be coming for them.
The ones who are really dying
have no strength to be scared of him
and welcome his presence when they see him settle beside them.
The old priest who tried to baptize the cat while giving himself last rites;
the lady who placed the top half of a Russian doll on his head,
believing it was a crown for the royal cat;
the tango dancer who detected
in the movements of the sleeping cat’s tail
the best dance moves dreamed up in the lands of Astor Piazzolla;
the engineer who finally put to rest his zoophobia—
they all cherished him in their own way,
they all built cathedrals within their minds
where the Cat of Death rivaled in importance
their most beloved daughters
and the old flames passing them on ships.
Someday he too will snuggle, his body warmer than normal,
using his tail as his own smaller Cat of Death.
There will be no noise among the elderly
frantically trying to tiptoe around the cat
in realization that now, when their own time comes,
they will have nothing soft or catlike to see them off—
just the room and the unheard echo of their last heartbeat.
“Cat of Death” was previously published in CityLitRag and the chapbook Neptune Court (The Operating System, 2015).
Anton Yakovlev’s latest collection is Ordinary Impalers (Kelsay Books, 2017). His chapbook The Ghost of Grant Wood was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Amarillo Bay, Measure, and elsewhere. The Last Poet of the Village, a book of translations of poetry by Sergei Esenin, is forthcoming from Sensitive Skin Books. Yakovlev won the 2016 KGB Poetry Annual Open-Mic Contest and was a finalist for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. He is the current Education Director at Bowery Poetry Club.