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In a Barn Cat's Hiss


St. Bruce of Cragswood


Cold, drizzly outside my October window, puddles in previously unseen ruts along the long shale drive, leaves near

death drooping from shagbark hickories


maples, oaks. Better to stay inside, wait

until the sun returns tomorrow or the next


day to walk into the stained glass autumn

nave, dappled reds, yellows, an orange halo


hanging over this quiet dead end road under

the cliffs, coyotes fisher cats groundhogs field


mice on the move regardless of weather,

creatures who know the unwritten scriptures


of the forest in their wet fur, on their tongues,

in their sharp teeth, beasts who live the golden


rule of survival in these non-denominational

woods, none claiming to know the one


way, the only way, to the water hole, the next

meal, a warm dry safe place for the night.


*

But I don’t stay inside. I bundle up against

the damp to offer what some call devotions


to this chilly pageant of confusion, breath and death

outside my window pane, wandering along


the curving drive to a rise among the pines,

stepping through mud, decomposing leaves, pine


needles, over wilted ferns, twigs, fallen limbs,

to the dog and cat graveyard, where, hands


in pockets, I reminisce with the pure souls all

around me: sweet Emma Duckdog, crazy Belle,


smelly Sandals, Gloria “Plumpy” Lewis, Sammy

the cat who would leap out from behind a tree


to scare little Elizabeth on her way to the bus,

every blessed one of them beneath my feet:


brilliant Janie, beautiful Azalea, Deion, stalker

of small beasts, nasty Rachel, purring on my lap


into her last breath, and though there is no stone

here for our mangy barn cat, missing teeth, part


of an ear, who never let us near, who passed into

mud all alone in these chilly unsanctified woods,


it is he I commune with today in this family

boneyard, St. Bruce of Cragswood, who kept his own


company, never betrayed a soul, even his own,

who told us through every warning hiss You can


feed me if you’d like, but you can’t be a saint

if you want to be a saint.


—SL, October 2022, New Paltz, NY


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