I can hardly stand to tell you
how when my dad was a boy,
his father put their cat, whose name
was Helen, into a burlap sack
with her kittens and some rocks
and threw them into the Columbia River.
If you’ve ever stood on its banks,
you know how it runs dark gray-green
below the Angel’s Rest, how it rolls
and churns and twists along the Gorge,
where hemlocks and blackjack pines
bear witness, and clouds press down
like a shroud. But now that you know,
I can tell you how when I was a girl
in California, the cat we named Muffy
had kittens not once but twice: the first litter
born too early, hairless and stillborn
under the ferns, the next a spirited gang
of five. I can tell you how their eyes
opened like stars coming out at night.
How fearlessly they climbed,
our curtains pocked with snags
forever after. How they fanned out
around a saucer to wean themselves,
stubby tails sticking out like rays,
the way I used to draw the sun.
I knew nothing of Helen then.
But when the kitten-gang had gone,
we watched as Muffy’s spay-incision
twisted and swelled from angry red
to pink to paler still, finally smoothing
into scar—a marvel, how damage
can undo itself to something new.
May it be so with all the old