J. Marie Wilkinson
The Dream of 1000 Cats
Last night I was the orange’s sweet spot
where you dig a thumbnail in to peel,
citrus mist perfuming
settles you into the process.
The Seattle apartment tinctured
in emptying quiet, salt on my lips,
& blood slow in my neck
as I stare down the phone on my blue mattress
willing it to sing with tight knuckles…
all I can conjure is a slow heat over your bed
& the meadow’s fat buzz of lightning bugs
green leaf sweat, your black hair on a strange pillow.
I’m remembering the drive we made from Santa Fe
to Tucson, soft sleeping to Billie’s penultimate splintered
vocal sessions in satin just under the engine’s cadence,
at the wheel telling myself, almost chanting,
I’m not in love, I’m not in love, you wake up
to Elephant Lake’s sun in your hair & I forget
what I wasn’t.
Coy, this is not to you, but I’ve been trying
to slow drag & dance these closet ghosts out
into the hallway without having to open
my mouth…& I’m asking about Albuquerque’s
phantoms because they know all my underhanded
cons: windows opened to the rain spatter,
refrigerator unplugged, even the tv on mute cartoons
to the wall. Useless. Nothing.
They’ve bunched in like frightened horses
around the jackets & slacks hanging behind
the sliding mirror door with me looking back
at me. A closet full
of a dead man’s
moldy wardrobe. His last cancerous wish,
bequeathing all his trench coats & corduroy vests
to the only one left to shoulder into any of it.
Waiting for an airplane out of Frankfurt,
February’s slow motion deaths are finally
singing a love song in my ear, like a puppy
licking a puppy as I slunk down in a rounded chair
under the broken pay phone.
Sticky-tired & wide awake, I’m stunned
with slow motion movements. But it’s not this dying,
not my strange inheritance or that my strongest memories
estrange me…it’s this little noise that’s ratcheting my spirits,
scuttle of roaches under the flimsy & sad-sprung bed…I dream
the dream of a thousand cats: Barceloneta’s
Mediterranean beaches, la madrugada & the moon,
smitten, won’t unpocket itself from the cloud scattered stars.
Leaning on a push broom, the fishmonger’s whistling his scrap-song,
the kind of man who still takes his belt off
to beat his children…& the loitering felines,
famished & anxious, the spitty tamped fur,
licked paws, walking in little circles. But, Coy
there’s a thousand or more, perched on patient haunches
tails swishing the air like a worm on a hook & the beach
has that cloudy-moon muffled glow. Not fog or mist,
but like dust on everything: I mean, sand grit in the back teeth,
in the hairline, out of every sink faucet & pants pocket. The cats
just look through me in slit dogfish reveries.
In the dream I bring back the green, busted Kentucky landscape
of Harmony’s Gummo, where the kids poison dumpster cats &
sell them out of a gunnysack at the back door
of the Chinese restaurant for the buffet special. & I won’t say
what they do with the money, but just as the older boy
has slung the sack over his shoulder & mounted
his bike I’m awake in Spain.
(Thinking maybe Coltrane’s drummer did time
in Lexington to get clean before rejoining the trio in Denver)
Muggy rainstorms & sidewalk fish rot, taxi cabs
or it takes all night to get back to the room: 48 hours
of wounded drinking & sleepless dreams & music as sad
as the picked over skeleton of a bull in a dusty riverbed…all
the phantom amnesia & motel room drape dust
I could wash out of my eyes.
Tonight, my body is a kind of pause. Elvin Jones growling
at the drum kit, his ride cymbal’s pinging tempo
filling out the dead air in this bedroom. If I
put a plastic ruler to the map of the world on my wall
I am 2 times the width of Africa
away from you, dreaming
the Spanish alley cats, the burnt smell of New Mexico’s
black pastures at the highway fence for miles, your breathing
on the shoulder of my t-shirt & Lady Day’s cragged croon seeps in.