Belly too big for such a small animal, spring nights warmer,
We nudged the gentle feral cat out of the laundry room
To give birth in some hidden place, to add her progeny
To the lineage of striped cats who’ve roamed prairie for decades.
But days later, her paw. She limped, licked it furless.
Two tiny wounds. Snakebite? Damn it. We let her back in.
The day before April Fools’, on his way out, I heard him
Make a perplexed sound, turn around, announce to his daughter,
To me, “Come see the kittens.” She gave birth to the first two
In the litter box. Repulsed, I arranged a dirty towel on a pillow,
Moved them all there, where, two hours later, two more appeared.
Two sand and black stripeys, two black with half calico faces.
She earned her name last summer when she showed up
Pregnant, too sweet to be believed wild, but wild nonetheless.
Enthralled with processed cat food and human touch,
She slinked around our door, tripped us walking too close,
Disappeared a couple days, came back thin. The kids
Searched the farm, a day later found a weak kitten in the corner
Of a close-doored, open-windowed barn room filled with milk jugs,
Boxes, crushed beer cans and scraps of dusty pink wall insulation.
The kids probably touched the kitten too much, put it back
In the barn. Baby Mama, nearly a kitten herself,
More interested in us than nursing, gave up on it. Next morning,
I found it smothered in the insulation, stiff. Surprised
To find myself judging a cat for derelict mothering,
I buried her kitten in the grassy field, forgave her, so young,
So newly loved. Last night, after six days of non-stop nursing,
She slipped out the laundry door into the dark. Kittens snuggled
Like warm monkey bread all night without her. Surely,
I thought, with a healed paw, her body craved mice. Or freedom.
We called for her this morning, like parents of an addict,
Not expecting much, but hoping. Kittens slept, still breathing.
Finally, stepping out to start the car: there she sat, elegant,
Behind the rear wheel. I opened the door, praised her return.
In she ran, hot with milk, and lay down with her fat, blind ones.