Author's Note: My best poem? I could pick poems that investigate connections with non-human living things. Or poems of place – the organic family farm in Trout Lake, Washington or Manzanita on the northern Oregon coast. Poems about cedar trees and forests. My husband nominated this one, a poem I shared at readings early on in my poetry adventure. It’s in my chapbook Urban Wild, but more poignantly for me, it appeared in an issue of One Person’s Trash – a photocopied and folded journal given to street people in Tacoma, Washington to sell to passers-by. It’s based on a true story. Website: triciaknoll.com
The Cat Came Back
John moved from the hole
in the Frisbee field to a cave
under a vacant viaduct
when the Bible church converted
the field into a parking lot.
Pedestrians scuttling to stores knew him
as the forty-something wild man
who spoke little truth,
greeted a bit too fervently
and stumbled from his wine.
On the best days around his small fire,
he’d hum a tune and thank
those who offered soda cans, coats or cash.
Sometimes people dropped
coins into John’s jar
at the gas station convenience mart.
The staff knew his fondness
for nachos and his restroom habits,
insisted he use his own cash for booze,
and asked after Cat whom most had never seen.
He often bought cans of tuna.
He’d been around so long,
he carved a depression in the clay
to retain body warmth.
He never shared his secret name for Cat,
a feral brown tabby who hung around,
but only when he was home.
Cat listened to his mumbles
about sharp teeth and numb toes,
accepted tuna and vanished
when strangers appeared under their bridge.
Cat and John could evaporate quicker
than a shadow in a headlight
when officers clean out illegal camps.
At the start of this wickedly cold New Year
a passer-by left $10 on top of John’s blanket
while he slept. John kept erratic hours
and slept a lot. An accountant
from the office by the bridge
realized the money had stuck to John
over that whole cold holiday weekend.
Police arrived. They strung up yellow tape.
The medical examiner followed.
Pneumonia was the final word.
A street crew removed John’s guitar,
a ragged American flag and three dirty blankets.
Four gifts lined up near his damp mattress:
three dead mice and half a rat.
Cat came back.
© 2019 Tricia Knoll
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