Burying the Cat

We buried the cat today, in the corner

of the yard. No fanfare, just a sprig

of kangaroo paw and some lavender,

the hole barely big enough for a shoebox.

Shovel in hand, I felt the loose soil

spill into the grave, returned whence

it came. The cat, ragged incisors curved

over her lip, claws protruding nakedly

from yellowed paws, lay in the bottom

of the box. As a child, I woke often

to those claws on the window screen,

an electric racket followed by the sound

of feet dropping onto corrugated tin

like clumps of wet dough. In her eyes,

the whole world startled into peaks

of green and yellow, flame-ringed

and clear as if preserved under glass.

At the center, the pupils, two slits

impossibly black, orbs that widened

after the light. Strange, what death

throws into bright relief. How it reaches

into the present, cinches to a fist

without warning. I feel this way watching

my daughter play, face bent over a book

or brightly colored toy, the moment

already laced with nostalgia. Each day,

I forget. How she looked at birth,

folds of skin gathered in the creases

of her legs. We buried the cat today,

and now I’m in the nursery, soothing

the baby after she’s woken crying,

haunted by sleep. I cross the room with

long, slow steps. Her body grows still.

I lean over the crib, lower her gently

back to slumber, and linger, feeling

the moments as they pass. This life

we’re losing, even as we live it.


Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Mid-American Review, Drunken Boat, Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.