On Tuesday evening I visited Amber,
who was staying with her mother while her husband was out of town,
visiting his own mother, ostensibly.
Amber’s big cat was still alive,
living in the basement and in three rooms on the first floor,
and was happy to see me, as I him;
he stood on his hind legs and wrapped his arms around my neck and shoulders
and rested his chin fully on top of my head.
I patted his ribs and tugged on the loose skin swinging from his belly.
He was still heavy, but not as heavy as I remembered him;
his breath was raspy, too, like my own —
his from age and mine from illness.

This was the house in which I kept my secrets.
Many of them were stored in mildewing boxes on plank shelves in the basement,
beneath the cantilevered tree trunks that I installed for the big cat so many years ago.
Atop the trunks, scraped by claws of bark,
that extended from the walls, slept the cat, when he slept,
his tail keeping time, thumping cardboard, when it kept time,
in the damp, in the dark.

I left the women in the kitchen, where they hunted for baking sheets,
passed through the un-papered nursery, paste flaking from sheet-rock,
the crib still under a dust-cover,
sideways through the weft, as it was called,
as it was named when we were ten —
the pass-through between the pipe closet and pantry —
one hand around a rope, knotted nine times,
and one hand around big cat’s tail, knotted once,
to the hatch and steps grown soft like rubber,
once more, and forever, forgiving my steps, his,
and the rope ending, the asbestos-covered ducting beginning,
with fingertips following its rough surface to the dirt bottom,
where coughing begins, where what was once lain under foot in rotten wood,
lies now in my chest — what seeped from blown glass bottles
with crackled stoppers.

Root-rived wall to the cannery stall, feeling for the rotary switch,
the cat already lying in what missing light escapes through the kitchen chinks, tail ticking.

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