Paul Maliszewski

Four Poems

The Weight

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.


How To

Then there was the time
My friend asked
Did I know how to feel
Up a woman?
Yeah, I said. I think. I
Don’t know.
It’s like this, he said, sort of.
He rubbed his hand
Palm up
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
Whole idea.
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,
Like this.

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
Or home?
My friend nev­er mentioned
The night, and I chose
To fol­low his example.


The Question

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.