Living Next Door to a House of Cats

Most days it didn't reach us, the pungent yellow,

the acrid scent of thirteen crammed into such a small space,

but when it did dad would close

his face, like the stores downtown at lunchtime,

and he'd say, that's the smell of too much of anything,

and mom would hide her nose deep in her elbow

and rush to the house, you and me on her heels

understanding nothing but a shortness of breath

(not unlike the one we have today),

except that one afternoon when we came home,

it was odorless, but our eyes watered all the same,

the garage door opened wide, and in the shade

of shelves dad had made for all the things he built with,

we found that palm-sized quivering life gone red,

patch of fur torn back like muddy turf at the scruff of the neck,

and that was the first time either of us had seen

the inside of a thing, the ugliness of being gnawed

by death, which we have come to know well,

watching it take them both too soon,

first him, now her, and each time seeing, in the x-rays

the doctors shared, more than the doctors could,

a baby rabbit still just inches old, and that black flash

from the wheelbarrow bed, tail trailing behind

(we saw it near the lungs for him,

for her in the very place where she gave life),

and we took aim, then, with stones, not even knowing

what we were trying to chase away,

not knowing we would be standing here, now,

arms raised, fists clutched and ready to let fly,

with nothing to throw, but our hearts.

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