Such Strange Eyes (National Poetry Month Day 19)

Childhood may not last its allotted due
For, in strange seasons, tragedy may spring
From the earth, wholly-shaped and hungering
Like a fiend fleeing their rayless tomb
Wicked and uncaring, cruelly striking
And eager to glut its maw with sorrow.
As such, I was a child for a moment
Long-lost in time, unremembered, recorded
Only as searing images, hot brands burning
Deep in the gray mass of memory and mist:

The day was mild, and under the porch
A barn-cat became a mother, birthed
A litter of eight; creamy white and tan,
With tiny paws and eyes slicked shut.
I was not older than that cat when I
Crawled through the musky shade and saw her,
Belly wet with afterbirth – at her
Breast suckled seven kittens, and in her
Mouth was one: torn through the neck, limp, half-eaten;
And I stared at her with such strange eyes.

The seven grew, flung open their eyelids,
Softened, learned of contented purrs and hums,
Grew large in small days and followed my footfalls.
Though only known for weeks, I learned
Of them, of their soft squeal when tickled,
Of the small scritching claws, of blueness
Only found in those tiny irises, and
How a brush of their fur could paint a smile.

The rest is known only in strobing flashes:
The mad jaws of a raccoon, covered in
Blood and foam and mud and small bright pinpricks
From dad’s twenty-two; From less apparent
Causes, the sicknesses that swell all things;
And that day in the greenhouse, the moving
Of flowers filling the pallets – my turn
At the pallet-jack, sliding it easily
Beneath the begonias – the small yelp
And crunch, my boiling stomach, the small
Kitten no longer purring, unresponsive
To my petting, to my pleading; such a
Small and broken thing, never to bring or
Feel joy again.