“Child Feeding Her Pets,” oil on canvas, by Gaetano Chierici, 1872.

by Laura Ruby

after Robert Frost

When Izzy was dying, she curled up
in an old box underneath the table saw
in the basement. Not a message, surely,
but then she was always the smart one,
the one who spent the first four months
of kittenhood dodging cars and raccoons,
cruel boys with thorns for brains and bitter
old women bearing bowls of anti-freeze,
while her adopted sister perfected the art
of the hairball on my living room rug.
Once I lured her inside, Izzy never wanted
to leave. But she would sit and watch
my husband rip and build, stain and seal
for hours, bright eyes measuring
every turn of the screwdriver and thrust
of the plane, how a hammer works
both ways.

People ask how I feel these days but
my tongue is both too sharp and too tender.
In short: I am a walking pickle. To shamble
around the block, I wear a baseball cap with
fake hair glued to the back and my neighbors
pretend it isn’t absurd. Cats have better methods
of making their peace with what fails, what falls.
Like them, I hide. In the middle of the night,
I writhe alone on the bathroom floor. It’s cooler
there, for one thing, and quiet. This box contains
me until the drama of the body fails to surprise.
Even pain needs a little perspective, I tell
the tiles, the toilet. The word “fine”
can mean anything when chiseled from
a shattered mouth.

But somewhere in the world, a ragged kitten
barely escapes the screaming wheels of a truck.
She crimps herself under a bush, heart a buzzing
saw. The earth is soft, the branches hold her close.
Her own hunger hums like a power line as she
imagines what marvels she could build
if only she had the right tools.

A two-time National Book Award Finalist, Laura Ruby writes fiction and poetry for adults, teens and children. She is the author of the Printz Medal winning novel Bone Gap, as well as Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in The Florida Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, and Nimrod International, among others, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Diode Poetry Journal, Sugar House Review, The Dallas Review, The Nassau Review, Passengers Journal, and elsewhere. She is on the faculty of Queens University’s MFA program and Hamline University’s MFAC program. She makes her home in the Chicago area.