by Tom Sleigh
Over by the cemetery next to the CP
you could see them in wild catmint going crazy:
I watched them roll and wriggle, paw it, lick it,
chew it, leap about, pink tongues stuck out, drooling.
Cats in the tanks’ squat shadows lounging.
Or sleeping curled up under gun turrets.
Hundreds of them sniffing or licking
long hind legs stuck in the air,
great six-toed brutes fixing you with a feral,
slit-eyed stare . . . everywhere ears twitching,
twitching as the armor plate expanding
in the heat gave off piercing little pings.
Cat invasion of the mind. Cat tribes
running wild. And one big pregnant
female comes racing through weeds to pounce
between the paws of a marble dog
crouching on a grave and sharpens
her claws against his beard of moss
before she goes all silky, luxuriously
squirming right under the dog’s jaws,
and rolls over to expose her swollen belly.
Picture her with gold hoop earrings
and punked-out nose ring like the cat goddess Bast,
bronze kittens at her feet, the crowd drinking wildly,
women lifting up their skirts as she floats down
the Nile, a sistrum jangling in her paw.
Then come back out of it and sniff
her ointments, Lady of Flame, Eye of Ra.
Through the yard the tanks come gunning,
charioteers laughing, goggles smeared with dust
and sun, scattering the toms slinking
along the blast wall holding back the waves
from washing away white crosses on the graves,
the motors roaring through the afternoon
like a cat fuck yowling on and on.
The gun turrets revolving in the cats’ eyes
swivel and shine, steel treads clanking,
sending the cats flying in an exodus
through brown brittle grass, the stalks
barely rippling as they pass.
After the last car bomb killed three soldiers
the Army Web site labelled them “martyrs.”
Four civilians killed at checkpoints. Three on the airport road.
A young woman blown up by a grenade.
Facts and more facts . . . until the dead ones
climb up out of the graves, gashes on faces
or faces blown away like sandblasted stone
that in the boarded-up museums’
fractured English “leaves the onlooker
riddled and shaken, nothing but a pathetic gaping . . .”
And then I remember the ancient archers
frozen between reverence and necessity—
who stare down the enemy, barbarians,
as it’s told, who nailed sacred cats to their shields,
knowing their foes outraged in their piety
would throw down their bows and wail like kittens.
February 2. 2009
The New Yorker
Photo of my friend JG's rescue.