Cat Lady

Ours was a widow, childless. We knew she wore
that bathrobe in the daytime, smoked Camels, and drove

the flat-black Pontiac that had grown old with her.
And we knew about the cats. When we came to deliver

her groceries, or rake leaves, we could see
through her back door: they were perched on the pie safe,

the refrigerator, the kitchen table—shadow-
quiet, watchful as owls at dusk. And the smell

was not just of cat-piss and foul tinned fish
but of something more—the heat of cats’ yawning,

an old woman’s long and smoky hair. We could never
describe it—and could not help imagining

out of that quiet the sound of urgent nursing
from glistening knots of newborn kittens,

the wail and hiss of mating, dying, the beat of all those hearts.
Claudia Emerson earned her BA from the University of Virginia and her MFA from
the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was poetry editor for
Greensboro Review
. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Smartish Pace, The
Southern Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, New England
and other journals.  Pharaoh, Pharaoh (1997), Pinion, An Elegy (2002),
Late Wife (2005) were published as part of Louisiana State University Press’s
signature series, Southern Messenger Poets.  Late Wife won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for
poetry. She is Professor of English and Arrington Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Mary
Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.