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.