Behind a garage, I found a nearly dead cat tied with an electric cord to a metal pipe. He'd rubbed all his fur away and lost most of his body weight. There were maggots in his open wounds and, when I untied him, he hadn't the strength to stand, but collapsed onto his side. The local vet made me promise to adopt him before hooking him to an IV, where he remained for several days. Now a healthy 12 pounds, Pluto has always had a tragic way about him, gentle, nervous, and sweet. I wondered, over the years, what his experience must have been like, then wrote this poem, "A Story About Dying," from his point of view. I changed the circumstances of his situation, but, composing the poem, it was Pluto I was imagining.
The old cat was dying in the bushes.
Its breaths came slow, slow,
it looked out over the sweetness of the back lawn,
the swaying of tall grass in the hot wind,
the way sunlight warmed the garbage can's
It closed its hot eyes,
then struggled them open again.
In unison, the dogs explained themselves
to the passing freight train.
I don't know where it's gone,
her husband said without looking up from his paper
while she stood on the back porch shaking the food bowl,
calling one of its names.
All this the dying old cat observed
from beneath the bushes, its head
sideways in the grass, its fur wet where the dog
had caught it in its teeth.
And now there's another train,
and the dogs are explaining themselves again.
The food makes that sparkling sound in the metal bowl
and the cat tries to lift its body from the grass
but it's feeling hollowed out, empty and strange
as though it's floating just above the tips of grass,
as if its paws barely touch the blades' rich points.
Sometimes, the dogs explain themselves to each other,
or to passing cars, but mostly they address the trains.
We are powerful dogs, they say,
but we are also good,
while the children on bikes, while the joggers,
while the vast, mysterious trains
pass them by.
The cat is still drifting above the grass tips,
and the sun is so bright the yard sparkles,
and wouldn't it be nice to rest there on the garbage can's hot lid,
there by the potted plant, there on the car's hood?
But it wants the food glittering in the metal bowl,
the food that, also, drifts above the grass tips.
And then the cat floats down the tracks,
the train's long call a whistling in its head.
And the dogs explain themselves to it,
we are good dogs, good dogs,
as the cat grows
impossibly far away, we are good dogs,
as the cat is almost a memory,
is barely a taste in the mouth
of one of the chorus.
Kevin Prufer's cat, Pluto