When Nebuchadnezzar ran away the earth neglected to spin,
the mockingbirds whispered elegies and the indigo clouds caved in
but then it was once again summer
(and summer came back just the same)
with pop songs and poolsides and popsicle sticks
and neighborhood baseball games,
yet we would all stand at the window,
watching the skyline burn,
wondering where on earth he’d gone
or if he would ever return.
They say that cats, in their wanderlust, have a constant yearn to roam
yet, in their hunt for food and warmth, eventually come back home
but maybe Nebuchadnezzar
tired of mindless pats,
maybe he was a beatnik beast:
a Vasco de Gama of cats,
maybe, beneath his wiry frame, there lived a secret romantic
who longed to nuzzle the Golden Gate Bridge or lick the rolling Atlantic.
Sadly, though, my family thinks that his life was all too brief
and he met his end on the razor edge of a young coyote’s teeth,
especially when a neighborhood mom
informed us that she had found
the flesh and whiskers of her very own cat
and it scared us to think of his gentle meow
muffled in frightened breath
as he glanced through the chasms of cold green eyes
in the moments before his death.
But Nebuchadnezzar never came back
from wherever he went that night,
though sometimes we would see his face
in the dusty midnight light,
or in the ink of a newspaper page
that one of us has sighted,
describing an owner and run-off cat
who, somehow, were reunited.
These happy reunions were tabloid myths
and our other cat was brought
to live for nothing but tuna and sleep
and the moles that he sometimes caught.
His flowing fur filled up with knots.
His stomach grew long and dense
and he hardly dreamed of bygone days,
scurrying by the fence.
On August mornings, he wouldn’t hunt,
but only look through the screen,
and wonder why there was empty space
where his feline friend should have been.
Though Nebuchadnezzar ran away the earth continued spin,
autumn fell in with a see-through splash, like ice in a glass of gin;
months continued to peel away, like strips on wooden chairs,
and I watched them disappear,
perched on concrete stairs,
searching for creatures beyond the grass,
creatures I thought could be
from a corporate hotel in a tree:
a suitcase of rabbits around his back,
a credit card in his paw,
the crooked grin of the Cheshire Cat in ridges around his jaw
but all of the other cats that passed
at night, when the lamps were dim,
were fat or thin or fierce or weak,
but not at all like him.
Once Nebuchadnezzar ran away
we never were the same,
our nights grew distant
our voices; soft
our wild hound dog; tame
and, all of us,
in our collective grief,
agreed that it was a shame,
to lose a cat with a blazing heart
and an incomparable name.
By Jonah Dratfield