He found the cat at the back
Of the closet. She lay on her side,
Bits of her claws chipped off,
And one paw stuck—this was
Bizarre—between a gap
In the floorboards.
She must have been really going
At that wall. He was just
Guessing. He could only guess.
He had a job then, working for this landlord,
His landlord, cleaning out the places,
Getting them ready, doing whatever.
The guy knocked a couple hundred dollars
Off his rent.
Wasn’t what he would call a great job.
If only the cat had scratched instead
At the door. He could have heard
Her, no? And done something.
Perhaps. Who knows.
What a way, though, to go,
He thought. He was looking for a bag
Or something to put her in.
It was just ridiculous, really.
But then he wondered if
There were any ways to go
That weren’t ridiculous.
The cat, when he lifted her
Up, the weight was heavier
Than he had expected.
Then there was the time
My friend asked
Did I know how to feel
Up a woman?
Yeah, I said. I think. I
It’s like this, he said, sort of.
He rubbed his hand
Along the bottom
Of the steering wheel.
We were in his car,
Parked somewhere. We’d been out
Driving, just driving
Until it got boring,
And ended up at a diner.
We were forever haunting
Diners that year, eating eggs
And grits and ordering
Large orange juices.
You kind of need to hook her
A bit, he said, with your fingers.
It was late. Two, three, who
Knew. Miracle Legion was playing.
Probably Me and Mr. Ray, a tape
We traded between us.
He said, You try it now.
But I didn’t want to. It was too
Weird, the plastic, the dark, the
What could I learn
From a steering wheel?
That’s all right, I said.
He put my hand on the wheel.
Feel it, he said. Here,
I worked my hand around
How he told me, feeling
The wheel as if that were a job
I wouldn’t mind getting fired from,
Touching the underside, just
Because he said to.
My fingers found the low place
Between two ridges then, the grip
Or hold maybe, that spot where
One’s finger—where my finger—
Was, I supposed, supposed to go.
I let go of the wheel and looked
Outside. I could see lights, cars,
Signs, the usual. The darkened
Storefronts, their windows painted
Over with exclamations. Liquidation
Sale. Se habla espanol.
Was love to be so many secrets,
Revelations, data gathered
For which I had no place
My friend never mentioned
The night, and I chose
To follow his example.
Late one night, after some movie
With sad sex in it, they
Lay in bed, talking. Would he rather
Be incredibly depressed, she asked,
Or morbidly obese?
He thought for a while, seconds.
What’s the matter? she asked.
Nothing, he said. I’m thinking.
It’s just a question, she told him.
Can I be sort of depressed,
He asked, and slightly obese?
She shook her head no. Don’t be
A weasel, she said. Finally,
He decided. He’d have to go
With incredibly depressed, he guessed.
She rolled over and elaborately sighed.
Me too, she said.
He told her that he was sorry. He wasn’t
Sure why. He just thought
She was upset, or something.
When she didn’t answer, he
Said it again, louder, because
Maybe, he thought, she hadn’t heard.
Under the Geese
In Houston, outside the city, geese
Used to winter in rice paddies,
Stopping over, maybe staying
The night, before heading farther
South and then what, I do not know.
I was thinking the other day
About a time, when my grandparents
Visited, my dad’s mom, my dad’s dad,
People who embarrassed me.
The way they talked, the way
They smelled, just the way they
Were. Did they have to act
So Polish all the time?
We had been to mass, when
My dad got it in his head
To go look for the geese.
We drove for an hour or more,
Aimlessly it would appear, looking
Out at the paddies and at the places
Where the paddies met the subdivisions.
We just needed something
To do somewhere.
Weeks later, at school I think it was,
Or at a mall perhaps, I saw geese
Overhead, thousands of them, taking
Wing, forming in the sky lines,
More birds than I had seen before.
It was like being inside some structure,
Something awful and immense,
A machine made by geese.
And I was there, under them.
They were loud, I remember,
And they overwhelmed me.
I was staggered,
And for a few seconds
I swear I could not think.
Paul Maliszewski is the author of Fakers, a book of essays, and Prayer and Parable, a collection of stories.