Connecting South Curry Street to North Curry Street,
the city begins its race toward progress
building a viaduct over the her garden
spanning three gridiron railroad tracks.
The coal dust settles as the trains roll by
with warning horns echoing off the concrete.
The cats begin to wander farther from home,
her concern for them not allowing her sleep.
Her fear settles on the train’s slicing wheels,
while her cats scurry from their grinding sound.
Their stomachs empty, no mice to chase,
rumble like the trains that scare them away.
She sings for her cats to come in from the rain
that nourishes the leaves of her buried potatoes
growing under the viaduct, not under the sun,
hardly producing a bagful to harvest.
The city waits for her elderly years to wither.
They want her land for a convenience store
where people can come in the dead of night
to buy their cats milk and a sack of potatoes.
Not So Black and White
Before being demolished today, the Skunk House,
with haunting empty rooms was an invitation to teens
who wrote on the walls and destroyed furniture
while stabbing a dressmaker’s dummy to death.
City officials, knowing my mother,
and thinking of possible items of value,
suggest she venture in to see what she wants,
perhaps there are books her children could read.
I beg my mother to let me go with,
not afraid of spooks or terrorizing ghosts,
or the stories kids tell of murderous men
and women who shriek in the dead of night.
I win her over with my false bravado,
so we creak open the door to let in the sun.
The boarded up house sighs dust in our eyes,
but it can’t detour us from going inside.
Dangling strings trip us from a smashed violin,
the sound of its music now dead.
Not knowing the price of the name
“Stradivarius,” we decide upon something else.
We go home with a chair between us,
brown plush material faded and torn,
nobody else to want it, or notice it gone,
or a book of poems lamenting the dead.
While our door is open, a white cat walks in
and I drop my end of the chair in fear
because behind it comes the Cat Lady,
a real living terror walking into our home.
Rushing behind my mother’s skirts, I reveal
my ignorance of haunting things
while my mother in her compassion,
hands over the kitten, unable to calm my fears.
Chalk Smears on the Sidewalk
She is small
allowing only eighty years
to peek out from her brown babushka.
She frightens us,
her language different, indiscernible
by children playing on North Curry Street,
so the taunts begin
with cruel slurs and chalk marks
that she can not understand.
She is alone,
save six cats who need her
swirling between her shuffling feet.
They gently purr,
with a language only she understands
as the rhythm of her snapping beans
waves her paring knife in our direction.
Rocking on her porch, she smiles
at the kids who curse her.
She is misunderstood,
save my mother who protects her
when she falls coming back from her garden.
My mother covers her,
with a coat and guards her from children
who laugh as potatoes roll from her bag
pinching their noses from the scent of cat
still swarming around her
till the paramedics come.
She is carried
from the viaduct to the safety of her porch
as the story spreads through the neighborhood.
We wait by her gate,
even without dimes promised by the mailman
who believe rumors of bones in the basement,
till my mother comes out to scold us.
The Cat Lady won’t shriek in the dead of night.
It’s time for us to go home.