Combing Queen Esther

Honorable Mention, Artsplash, 1995; Buffalo Bones, 1996, New Laurel Review, 1997.

for Robert Baird Hunt 1937-1995

My cousin’s cat mopes in her rocker[break]uncombed all week with a furball cough,[break]old Queen Esther squash-faced and jowly.[break]Leaky eyes, right side up and ratty,[break]she rubs against the cold comb[break]whose spines turn with the brushstrokes.

He taught her to lie upside-down[break]in his hands, rocked like a baby.[break]Now I purr to her, stroke[break]the soft fur, pull out burrs and seeds,[break]hold the pale pink flesh away,[break]careful. By the fire I set[break]a slow rhythm in the winter afternoon,[break]stroking out human conversation.

Behind us the doorbell rings and rings,[break]my aunt gathering in tulips,[break]roses, hibiscus, baskets[break]of cheese, banana bread[break]and jam, $7 allowance[break]in a froggybank from[break]Katy next door and[break]the Sunday[break]obituary.

Caught in death’s spines,[break]now it’s us[break]he’s turned upside-down[break]and who will brush our white hair?

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