Tom Cat

That old alley cat. How he waited us out.
Mornings, he’d pad atop the cinderblock walls
between the patios of our apartment building,
when we lived in that shabby town,
where nothing was green and the dry channels
crisscrossed behind wire fences. Approaching,
he’d call out like a seal at sea,
head back, throat open, announcing his arrival.
Through the sliding glass door, we’d see him
perched on the broken air conditioner.
What an ugly cat! Ears torn like page corners,
folded and refolded. And that coat! Coarse, filthy,
striped with scars. Big old Tom cat

who refused to leave until I fed him,
his thick body pressed against the stucco.
I’d put the food down and jump back.
And he’d lean into the bowl, neck taut:
some wild thing, swinging his head,
eyes two slits of concentration.
And you said then, when we lived in that dreadful town
where the neighbors argued all night
and trucks rumbled by all day:
Even the cats are unlovable here.

We dubbed him Marco: big Mafioso of a cat.
Marco who’d return at sunrise, or what passed
for sunrise, more like a lightening of grays in a dirty sky,
yelling my name it seemed,
and jumping down onto the square of sharp gravel.
Big Marco, who’d appear each morning:
sometimes cut up, sometimes limping,
always hungry.

And even in the rain,
water running off the roof,
the gutters bursting from their brackets,
the bare buildings in that concrete town
streaked with rust, he’d be there.
I’d leave the window open, Only a little
but he’d squeeze in, and some nights,
waking from sleep, we’d smell his musky presence,
halfway familiar, and feel him,
Marco, ugly cat,
curled at the foot of our bed, dreaming.

Published in Mal Pais Review