5 poems by Laura Stamps

Poetry

TO BE LOVED

Coming back from the grocery store, on a Sunday

morning, my husband driving, me in the passenger

seat, talking about something, I can’t remember what,

we reach the top of Harbison bridge when I see

a kitten, just six or seven weeks old, dart like a flash

of tabby out of the bushes into heavy traffic, into

the wheel of an oncoming car, bounce off, terrified,

and begin to drag its injured body toward the other

side of the bridge, while I scream for my husband

to STOP THE CAR, while I leap out, while I dodge

traffic, cars screeching to a halt to keep from hitting

me until I reach the kitten (finally!), scoop it up

in my arms, dash back to the car, jump in, cuddling

the frightened babycat to my chest, while my husband

yells: “What should we do!” and I shout: “Take me

to the Emergency Vet!” since it’s Sunday and my vet

is closed, but even though I spread a fabric grocery bag

on my lap to make a soft bed for it, and even though

I shower it with love and assurances of a long life,

the little tabby passes away before we reach the end

of the street, so we turn around and drive home,

where I hold a beautiful funeral for this sweet feral

kitten to let it know without a doubt in those last

moments and in death it was loved, it was loved,

it was loved by me, and always will be.


BE NOTHING

My big tabby cat, Chester, follows me everywhere.

Chester doesn’t meow like other cats. He chirps.

Like a bird. Only not. I sink into the plump cushions

of the sofa to decompress after a long day at work.

Chester jumps in my lap and rests his head on

my hand. “I’d like to discuss something with you,”

I say, scratching the sweet spot beneath his chin.

He chirps in response. “I saw the most interesting

thing online today,” I say. “BE NOTHING. It’s

a famous quote. But I’ve never heard it before.

What do you think it means?” Chester rolls over

to expose his stomach. Chirp, chirp. I thread

my fingers through his soft belly fur, while I roll

the idea of being nothing over and over in my mind.

Be nothing. Not something. No attachments. No

baggage. Nothing to cling to. Nothing to lose.

Detach, detach, detach. Float free. Like a loosed

balloon. Up, up. Away. Like a planet riding

the gentle waves of space. No expectations. No

pressure. Floating, floating. Away. My shoulders

relax, and all my muscles sigh with relief. “How

can this be?” I say to the cat, leaning down to kiss

the field of silk between his ears. “How can the

thought of being nothing make me feel so light

and free if I don’t know exactly what it means?”

Chester looks up at me, my cat who never

overthinks, his eyes tranquil pools of peace.

Chirp, chirp. “Oh,” I say. “I see.”


CAT MANIA

When I was eating lunch, when I wasn’t paying

attention, Honeysuckle jumped on the kitchen

counter and crawled into a plastic trash bag.

Always hungry. Always looking for treats.

Always curious. Finding nothing but an empty

spinach can, she backed out through the handles

of the bag. When she jumped from the counter

to the floor, the bag followed, one handle wrapped

around her neck, the spinach can slamming into

her back. Terrified a monster had attacked,

she galloped out of the kitchen, through

the living room, up the stairs, down the stairs,

over furniture, under furniture, faster and faster,

the spinach can smacking her back with every step,

barreling toward Chester, who fled, horrified

at the sight of the bag flying above Honeysuckle

like a punishing angel. Lover of all things

chase-able, Jeremiah joined in, chasing the bag,

as it chased Honeysuckle, as she chased Chester,

as Chester ran for his life, as the house

deteriorated into collateral damage. Finally,

the handle broke, Honeysuckle and Chester

collapsed, Jeremiah performed his happy-

dance to celebrate the thrill of the chase, and

I laughed and laughed until my jaws ached.

You have to make room for joy in your life.


WHY AM I HERE?

1.

Here I am at PetSmart. Me and my empty cart, looking at all

the things you’ll need if you adopt a dog, because my best

friend adopted a dog. She loves that dog. She said I need a dog.

She said if I come to PetSmart, see all the cute dog products,

I’ll fall in love with the idea of adopting a dog too. Except,

I’m a cat person. I’ve always been a cat person, and that

will never change, so why am I here?

2.

I’m still at PetSmart, wandering down one aisle after another,

looking at dog products to make my best friend happy. The

friend who wants me to adopt a dog, who forgot I grew up

with cats. I’ve always had cats. I have a cat now. I love

my cat. I need to tell my dog-loving best friend this isn’t

going to work. It isn’t. Just. Not. Working.

3.

I don’t need to adopt a dog. I just need to leave. I am

leaving. I’m leaving this empty cart behind. And walking

out. I’m walking out of PetSmart without any dog supplies.

I’m walking out without adopting a dog. I’m a cat person.

Cats make me happy. Happy is good. I don’t need a dog.

I just need to leave. I’m a cat person. And I always will be.


TANGERINE DREAM

There’s a corner in my hairdresser’s salon just for books.

Two bookcases full of novels. Mostly romances. Used

paperbacks from the flea market. She sells them to us

for a dollar each. Something to read while she cuts and

styles our hair. The dollars go into a coffee can on top

of one of the bookcases. Once a month she takes the

coffee can to the flea market to buy more romance

novels. It’s a strategy that works. For all of us. Next to

the bookcases is a cat tree. Also from the flea market.

Also used. This is where Oscar lounges all day, his

favorite place to nap. Oscar is a ginger cat with the most

unusual fur. It shimmers a vibrant shade of tangerine.

He’s a tangerine dream. No one knows where Oscar came

from. He just appeared at the shop one day and stayed.

That was five years ago. Now he’s the shop cat. The cat

that naps. All day. On Monday afternoon I walk through

the door of the salon, select a paperback, drop my

dollar in the coffee can, pet Oscar, and sit in an empty

swivel chair. “What can I do for you today?” my

hairdresser says. “This,” I say, pointing at what I want.

She covers my body with a big plastic apron. “Are

you sure?” she says. “Yes,” I say. “This is what I need.”

Tying the apron ribbons securely around my neck, she

pumps up the chair with her foot. “Okay,” she says,

“Let’s do it!” After my fiancé left me at the altar, after

I recovered from the resulting funk, I decided to shake

things up. That’s what today is about. That’s what

I need. Three hours later she whirls my chair around

to face the mirror. “Done,” my hairdresser says.

A masterpiece! No longer drab brown, my hair glows

like a ripe tangerine. Like a sizzling sunset. The flaming

coals on a grill. A blazing book of matches. The flare

of a candle. Now my hair is the same shimmering

shade of tangerine as Oscar’s fur. Now I’m a tangerine

dream too. Just what I wanted. Just what I need.

“It’s purrrrrrfect,” I say. She laughs.


Laura Stamps is a narrative poet. Books and chapbooks: THE YEAR OF THE CAT, IN THE GARDEN, CAT DAZE, TUNING OUT, and more. Winner of the Muses Prize. Recipient of 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Shortlisted in the Loft Books Poetry Competition. You can find her every day on Twitter: @LauraStamps16.