back ~ home ~ up ~ next








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 us—was 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 miaowed.

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 pregnant—and that cat,

swallowing spiders, wilder—and 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.


Richard Moore



From A Question of Survival, University of Georgia Press, © 1971.
Originally printed in the Transatlantic Review.  Reprinted by
permission of the author.


back ~ home ~ up ~ next