with the long braids and the hair bows
(one untied as always I remember),
owl glasses obscuring the small elfin face,
I have a photo of you, clutching a kitten,
possessive, tight to the chest, fingers woven between tiny limbs.
He was your first pet and stubbornly
you named him for his tabby grey color,
no matter how they wheedled you to match names
for the brother cats you’d take home.
Calvin and Hobbes they should have been,
but instead of the bratty child’s,
you chose a gentler name: Charcoal,
for snowy paws and pink nose and a tiny grey-stripe coat.
Of course, he wasn’t gentle at all, despite his looks.
He fought off a sixty pound dog once
and spent most of his days mousing ferociously in the field.
He grew big-boned and majestic,
and always a bit aloof, a bit cautious –
the missing tip of his tail excused his reservations.
I remember you, little girl,
patiently following until you soothed his wariness,
then hauling him up, too big,
too heavy to fit comfortably into your skinny arms.
Still, he’d pause a few minutes before escaping
to purr so loudly you’d vibrate,
to knead his painful claws into your bare arms
as a sign of love and approval.
For seventeen years he has kept up that habit,
sinking his claws through clothes,
stretching them luxuriously, then pulling them tight,
unhooking and repeating,
always catching the skin a little, with a smart,
but purring, purring all the while,
as if the sound would salve the soreness from his claws.
Oh, little girl in the picture,
you and I have loved our cat – cantankerous old beast
which he became over the years,
but always willing to be petted,
to rub his itching head against our outstretched hands.
With his passing, I feel the end of an era:
perhaps the time of my childhood,
idyllic days, with the family cats and dog
stretched in the golden summer of nostalgia.
To be sure, I have new animals now,
but my regard for them is also new – more maternal,
more adult, more concerned with their good behavior
and less with smothering them, as children will,
with (sometimes unwanted) affection.
But I remember you and the kitten you clutched,
who grew into the cat, my friend.
You have remained, becoming me
over seventeen long years, passing on silent feet.
Sunk into myself, part of my flesh and spirit,
is the small child you were then
and the cat you chose for me.