America, I have a friend for whom everything went south
after the death of her cat. It seems melodramatic
& hyperbolic to say so, though sometimes
even the melodramatic & hyperbolic are true. Another truth:
She saw it coming, but there was nothing she could do.
First, she adopted two feral kittens someone had found
in a garage & when that didn’t work, she phoned
the local shelter & took in five more. Like the everything
that unfolded thereafter, the opening act was slower
& more complicated than I am making it now. Today,
I drove a long way to the airport in order to fly directly
into a blizzard & back. Someone in a control tower
somewhere should have known this was a bad idea—
something we all wake up early in order to discover
we don’t actually have to do. But there was no red alert
from the airline in the inbox above the forwarded story
of the tortoiseshell cat in Florida, which had found its way
two hundred miles home. America, because
we would like to know where we are going & what
we will find, scientists have released animals
inside planetariums & tied magnets to the heads of turtles
in order to prove that it is possible to set them off course.
They have surgically removed most of the anatomy
from living homing pigeons & still, we are stuck
with the words instinct & gut. Also sometimes amazing
aptitude. Holly was reduced to skin & bones & raw footpads.
Domestic cats rarely pass through the Everglades alive.
Do not be ashamed. Who doesn’t have a hungry wilderness
inside? On the plane, I sat between a Jehovah’s Witness
& a student of cognitive psychology on his way to an interview
at a memory lab. She read aloud her favorite passages
about love & judgment. She said, The Lord gave us a chance
to be gardeners & look what we’ve done. America,
we know seabirds only fly on starry nights & the dung beetle
pushes its golden ball in a perfectly straight line, using
the Milky Way as its guide. More and more I try to forget
where I am. Who would not feel frightened on a burning
planet in a radioactive sea? It’s not faith or loyalty. Only fact.
We are small & afield. Give me your hand in the dark.
Kathleen Graber is the author of two collections of poetry, Correspondence (Saturnalia Books, 2006) and The Eternal City (Princeton University Press, 2010), which was finalist for the National Book Award, The National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and The Guggenheim Foundation. She was the 2007 Hodder Fellow in Poetry at Princeton University and the 2008 Amy Lowell Travelling Scholar. New poems have appeared recently in The American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, and The New Republic.