I was told to stay away,

not to throw rocks at her windows,

not to look while she danced

naked on her front porch.


I could only imagine her as a witch,

her nose jagged and festering,

oily hair stuck to her head.

I imagined her laughing

out of control on a gutted mattress

somewhere in the unpainted bungalow

beyond the overgrown yard.


Neighbors remembered that she stopped

going to church, had groceries handed

through a hole in the screen door;

that cats began coming:

orphan cats with wild faces,

scowling, bitter cats,

desperate cats licking fur raw,

cats cocking tails when I came near.


The morning the police wrestled her screaming

into the paddy wagon,

shrieking words I was never to say,

they counted forty-three cats,

and in her basement found rows and rows

of glass jars labeled and filled

with cat excrement.


Three long nights the cats anguished

over their loss, slipped through hedges

one by one, eyes glaring,

red with stolen secrets.


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