he came to the door one night wet boney beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
got to trust until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said, “not much
chance . . . give him these pills and wait . . . his backbone
is crushed, it was crushed once before but somehow
melded, if he lives he’ll never walk again, look at
these x- rays, he’s been shot, look here, the pellets
are still in him . . . also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off . . .”
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest summers in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn’t eat, he
wouldn’t touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn’t go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and I talked to
him and gently touched him and he just looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn’t move)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
that was like the horns of chance and possible victory
blowing away in the bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat—I’d had it bad, not that kind of
bad but bad enough . . .
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and he
just looked at me.
“you make it, man,” I said to him, “you’re a good one . . .”
he kept trying it, getting up and falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk weaving, the
rear legs just didn’t want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up . . .
you know the rest: now he’s better than ever, cross- eyed,
almost toothless, all the grace is back, and that look in
the eyes never left . . .
and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed
shot runover de-tailed cat before them and I say, “look, look
but they don’t understand, they say something like, “you
say you’ve been influenced by Celine . . .”
“no,” I hold the cat up before them, “by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this! . . .”
I wobble the cat, holding him up under the front legs in
the smokey and drunken light; he’s relaxed, he knows things . . .
it’s about then that almost all the interviews end.
although I am very proud sometimes when I see the interviews
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photographed
together . . .
he knows it’s bullshit too but it helps get the old cat food,
This and ninety-one other pivotal poems from Charles Bukowski’s career can be found in the new collection Essential Bukowski: Poetry – out now.