A summer morning. As I move slowly, step
by wary step, through the silent pinkening
of my still-sleeping neighborhood, I watch
for those stranded on sidewalks by the night’s
retreat. Though it takes effort, and though
I sometimes risk toppling, I lower myself
delicately down, low enough finally to nudge
their writhing blindness toward the safety
of dewdropped grass, because soon the sun
will rise high and harsh, quite keen to crisp
every raw and feeble straggler, including me.
Next to rusted fairies guarding our more rusted gate,
a prim stray sat in our garden on a square of gray stone.
Scarred and scared he approached me, slow as a pawn,
drawn to, then through, the back door by chicken paté.
We chose a name, not yet knowing how the clinic vet,
when set to inoculate, vaccinate, deworm, and unsex,
would find downy pearls sown by a Dimmesdale tom,
and so Chester lost a letter to become our feline Prynne.
Through our windows, she’d watch the threats of the world
pass by—the cars and dogs, the boys on bikes—until night
blackened the view and we’d lower the blinds until morning.
Grateful, she’d curl herself into a muff at our feet and sleep.
Years later, on the final day, she sat still—stoic and silent
in the spring’s warming light. When the vet’s empty basket
came inside, our girl was nestled in my lap, a ruff of bones.
A needle’s invisible work then made her nap permanent.
I petted her a minute more, still expecting to hear and feel
her purr despite knowing better, then finally passed her over.
When the vet left, his once-empty basket, the perfect size
for Easter eggs, left along with him, hardly any heavier.
In Memoriam (Summer, 1978)
Before the rest of the family, I wake
to unlock the front door and tiptoe
through the damp grass of a Sunday
morning to retrieve the newspaper,
hoping the comics weren’t forgotten.
After the first sun-heated seconds
have sprayed warm onto bare feet
and grass, I breathe in the smell
of garden-hose rubber as I gulp
in its first cold, clean splashes.
While an evening sky pinkens
behind a baseball slung underhand
as high as I can manage (and then catch),
an announcer on my portable radio
says, Low and outside, ball two.
After the news ends, I’m allowed
to watch Johnny shrug and smirk
and tell jokes that make Ed laugh,
but once he swings the invisible putter,
Dad sends me to bed. The day is over.
To those of you old enough, please
remember these times with me.
Let them be prayers of a sort—
the only sort I’ve ever known—
to slow this world’s rush to end.
Kevin Grauke has published work in such places as The Threepenny Review, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, Cimarron Review, and Ninth Letter. He’s the author of the short story collection Shadows of Men (Queen’s Ferry), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. He lives in Philadelphia.
on Greg McBride