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 mad sorceress or a witch,

her nose jagged and festering,

oily hair stuck to her head,

laughing out of control

on a gutted mattress

somewhere in the unpainted bungalow

beyond the overgrown hedge


Neighbors remembered 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

filled and labeled

with cat excrement


Three long nights the cats anguished

over their loss, slipped through bushes

one by one, eyes glaring,

red with stolen secrets