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.