Poetry Porch: Poetry


by Richard Moore

It’s time that I deciphered the last traces
of our engagement out in windy spaces
the time my country fought in North Korea.
Marriage was my idea
because I needed roots
in a prim Texas town
that outlawed prostitutes.
I wanted life more normal,
and so, like war declared, when you came down
I made our marriage formal.
Fanatic nations pursue objects, blind.
I had an image of you, hanging in my mind,
out of your body.

Too gentle, frightened almost, for a nurse,
you could still work. Things might have been much worse.
A homosexual chaplain I’d befriended
married us. You pretended
to like him, and he did the same for you.
Allergic to cats too
it may have been the kittens in your trunk
more than our cheap champagne that got him drunk.
Who made you more afraid,
he, or the dying man with his face flayed
in your hospital? Keeping those two cute
newborn kittens, you quit without dispute.
There was enough between uswas there not?
since both of us knew well what pleasure could be got
out of your body.

Kittens consumed our honeymoon. We fed
them with doll bottles; rubbing them, we’d vex
their little bowels to move into Kleenex;
and on each hotel bed
we’d watch their loving romps
till this all ended in the Georgia swamps.
There, where a captain’s crazy English wife
screamed and attacked her children every night,
their eyes opened, they learned to fight for life.
Yours was the female. White
and sickly, she looked cowed.
Maddening how she constantly meowed.
And yet you wept for her,
when through her tufts of fur
you saw spreading my trowelfuls of dirt,
as if she had been taken, stiffened and inert,
out of your body.

The war went on, our whole economy boomed,
and every day I zoomed
over the Negroes down
sweating in shanty town
up to the clouds in million-dollar machines
I, in the elite corps
who’d fight the Next Great War
mostly by automation,
exterminator hired by the Nation
to keep this over-crowding world in check.
While army and marines,
holding it by the neck,
killed Communist Chinese,
I picked our kitten’s fleas
and pictured things much better left ignored.
That yellow male survived,
seemingly million-lived
as that unwashed Asian horde
resisting Freedom’s probe
from halfway round the globe
they died with such abandon, backs to their own border.
All I could find was monstrousness, insane disorder,
out of your body.

Then even you grew pregnantand that cat,
swallowing spiders, wilderand he spat
back at me, dared to enter
my room at night, tormenting his tormentor
maybe in quest of rubbing, warmth, or food,
and unaware as loud, unturned-off radios,
booming the news, I needed solitude.
What can one do? One throws
whatever comes to hand, out of one’s wits,
and the cat spits.
You feared he might disturb me. Yes, he might.
Sometimes it seemed he cried
as you cried, cried each night
for the tough life inside
you, growing. . . . But one dawn
you woke; the cat was gone.
Who forced him out, then, tempting him, or goading?
Your eyes filled with foreboding
and General Eisenhower
proclaimed the earnestness of the hour
and said that creeping socialism must be stopped.
We drove to Jacksonville and had the baby chopped
out of your body.

Copyright © 1971 by Richard Moore. This poem first appeared in Transatlantic Review and is included in Moore’s first book of poetry, A Question of Survival, University of Georgia Press, 1971.