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poetry A Feral Calico Cat

Poet Joe Cottonwood writes about " an underground railroad/of farmworkers" along the coast of California, a sad story with a good ending.

A Feral Calico Cat

By Joe Cottonwooed

A feral calico cat

used to sleep in my truck

like a ghost leaving

the driver’s seat warm

but gone when I’d arrive.

Heard me, sharp ears.

Sometimes on the console

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she’d leave a bat with wings intact,

a baby rabbit, neck broken. Rent paid.

I set out kibble, she wouldn’t touch.

Never bore kittens though I’d hear

nights of yowling, fights.

Later, her ears failed. I’d open the door,

she’d startle awake. Leap. Clawed

my shoulder once in her haste.

Near the end she’d eat the kibble

but still got skinny, ribs outlined.

One day I found the food untouched. She’d vanished.

Like most animals, she knew how to die.

I tell you this because a while ago

in the garage I found two children,

boy and girl curled together

in a filthy sleeping bag half under the truck.

On the girl, arms like wire. On the boy,

a scar like purple rope between ear and nose.

Eyes that hold fear and keep secrets.

I try to say Estas a salvo aqui — you are safe here.

They refuse to follow into mi casa.

Quickly in the house I grab fleece jackets,

a box of Cheerios, a jug of milk

plus bowls and spoons. I come back out.

Boy and girl are gone.

There’s an underground railroad

of farmworkers up the coast of California

but my garage would be off the main track.

An hour later I’m loading corrugated drainpipe  

when a frantic woman shows up. She’s short, ragged,

missing one eye. Her language not Spanish, not English

but with fingers on her face she indicates the scar—

those were her kids. With a mother’s super sense

she’s tracking like a bloodhound.

All I can do is point to where they slept

and offer her some Cheerios which she declines.

She takes the jackets. And then she’s gone.

I return home after dark.

Running late that morning I’d left

the milk and Cheerios on a tool box.

Now nowhere in sight. Might’ve been an animal

except the bowls and spoons are upside down

on a smoothed-out shop rag, washed and dried.

Never see the kids or the one-eyed mom again.

Probably migrated north with the harvest.

This much I know: Later, maybe a year,

one morning on the console of my truck

I find a jelly jar of wildflowers,

a paper bag of pears.

Joe Cottonwood has built or repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints.