Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Brains of the Alley

Latches, the Latest Graham
—Poems and Photos by Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA


Latches might have been a stray, a street-
ruffian. Instead, he spent half his young life
at the no-kill shelter, aging kitten-into-
everything, too darkly handsome for adoption.
People don’t want black cats, they say.
But our last black cat disappeared, seasonal
escape-artist through a crack of door.
Mid-winter. Time for another black cat.
We took Latches home. He teases our bitch
to a chase. Limber-crazy like he’d lost his
linchpin all over the house. Between chases,
Loki occupies her benchmark couch
as senior dog. A truce. Last night Latches
sharpened his claws on couch-leather;
peered up at her dangling feet;
raised to his mini-cougar height and
sniffed her toe. Loki slept on. He leaped
and snuggled briefly to her chest.
Winter freeze begins its gradual thaw.


She curls her claws around the pimples
of her pads. Black feet of a cat who unfurls
darkly about a purr. How long it’s taken
for that ease against my fingers; how long
before she learned to trust a stroke
along her spine.

Cats keep their histories to themselves. 
I don’t know why this cat came to me. But
tonight—eyes closed, taut arched skull, cougar
profile in miniature—she rises to my hand. 
Startle of static under fur.

(first pub. in Free Lunch)


Percussion of shepherd tail-wag
against wall, pendulum of dog-patrol.

Kitten’s in the sink, spoon against kettle.
Crackle of cellophane in pantry,

mouse scuttling on prowl. Alert
at rodent-crevice, Loki’s on guard.

Spirit of the household, she’s
survived the birth and death of puppies.

Unjaundiced, she superintends us,
keeps our schedule by a clock

more primitive than hourglass,
embedded in brain:

our times for waking, for bed-walk
and its return, for her reward.

See her precision sit-at-attention
at dog-cookie jar on kitchen counter

safe from both mouse and kitten.
Now begins her night-watch.


At edge of pothole pavement
it hides in the thick of blackberry,
at home in exuberant thorns.
It ripples in waves of dark beyond
streetlights to hunt the crevices,
a lace of spider web on ear and eye-
lash. It lashes its tail, obligates
a passing dog to be wary. Invisible
by daylight, from nowhere it
springs ferocious with fang and
claw on unsuspecting canine
minding a master’s business.
Cat’s the brains of the alley.


A back-way cat    does not grow fat
but slinks the edge   of cobble and hedge,
perches on ledge   mocking the sphinx
a make-believe lynx   hot-wired hi-jinx
cougar in miniature   (propane-tank furniture
skeleton cat,    spoor of rat)
he lies in wait     with claws of fate
for travelers late—  
mouse rat dog    head all a-gog   
or in a fog—an alley-cat leap   
sinks claws deep    in life’s flanks,   
no please or thanks   don’t call it pranks   
to guard with fangs    against fate’s gangs  
he has no shame    life’s his aim
his secret name    


You ask about our New Year’s Eve.
Were there fireworks in town? 
We stayed home, hoping for—what?
Lightning over the mountain.
My office, a favorable lookout
for spying Polaris through leafless
oaks. Remember that storm
years ago, a long wide brilliance
over the river—too distant
to hear its thunder. It pulled me
out the door. It kept on flashing for
hours. As if the gods were
assiduously scrubbing the sky
with steel scouring pads, metal on
metal, sparking that far-off radiance.
I couldn’t go back inside. It held
me half the night in awe.
Next morning sparkled a new world
brighter than new year fireworks.

Today’s LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham

January Northwind’s frigid
metal exuding ice, current
connecting metal to bone.
We walk without talking.
Wind’s theme is Leaving,
dead leaves squabbling.
Flag’s wound on the pole
that keeps it from flying.
Northwind sings,
if you keep on walking,
it keeps you from dying.


Our thanks to Taylor Graham for today’s cat, alley and otherwise, and tales of her newly adopted kitten, Latches. Her alley cat photos were taken of the feral cats who live in the Placerville Fairgrounds.

Traci Gourdine will read tonight at Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe, plus open mic, 8pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.


 Scram—this is my alley!
—Anonymous Cartoon
(Celebrate poetry!)

Photos in this column can be enlarged by
clicking on them once, then clicking on the x
in the top right corner to come back to Medusa.