Eighth Grade, Golden Sunlight
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.