Eighth Grade, Golden Sunlight

Dennis Caswell

My substitute teacher has escaped.

I find her standing in somebody’s driveway,

still as a deer, and want to call the janitor

to come pick her up and put her back

in the closet.  A rumpled, black bean bag

lies at her feet, a thin strand of gore

cementing its open mouth to the pavement.

“My cat died,” is all she says,

staring past me at a future

as bleak as Mars.

She looks old, maybe thirty.

In class, she isn’t mean or kind;

she’s scared.  Her teeth are horrible,

her upper incisors so pushed-in and crooked

her toothbrush can’t reach them,

so they’ve turned brown,

but the rest of her face

is gentle and spinster-sweet

and makes me wish

I knew how to love, or that I knew

how alone she will be

without this cat, or that I knew

how many years it would be

till the next time I shared a tender moment

with a woman.  I see her competing

in the Miss Lonely pageant,

and when the judges ask about world peace

and serving humanity, she says,

“My cat died,” and they toss her

the tin-foil tiara, but I don’t

say that.  I just walk away,

a cursed beast, having refused

the crone’s rose, and I’ve never forgiven myself

for not marrying her.  We would have

traveled the world, and I’d introduce her

to royalty, saying, “This is my beautiful wife,

Miss Shelton,” and she’d say, “My cat died,”

and I’d kiss her worn, ancient cheek

and tell her, “I know, my darling, I know.”

Dennis Caswell is the author of the poetry collection Phlogiston (Floating Bridge Press). His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Rattle, Bluestem, Crab Creek Review, and assorted other journals and anthologies, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives outside Woodinville, Washington and works as a software engineer in the aviation industry. His dorky and not-very-compatible website may be found at denniscaswell.com.