Erica Bernheim

THE CAT WITH THE DISAPPEARING TEETH

 

A kindhearted friend has been feeding a stray
whose teeth are being swallowed by its body.

It was always the most obvious culprit, and
yet it took two veterinarians over a year

to figure it out, the top brass keeping its fangs
for and to itself, the congressman boss of the missing

intern who turns out not to be guilty far too long
after the fact. At our age, death from overdose

becomes both easily excusable, and exotic; heart
failure can sound respectable, regardless of cause,

whether it occurred in the mobile home of strangers
who will leave you there while they go out to dinner—

this is what they tell the police, as they had them-
selves been folding back into their own bodies while

you had been leaving yours, as you nearly did during
that terrible dinner at your terrible brother’s house, his

wife talking too loudly about being child-free, not child-,
less, and something needed to be warmed inside you,

growing and spreading—or on a metal table in the cold
hospital room after a doctor has heated up a small, blue

container of meatballs. Too easy? Death is the ultimate
publicity stunt for those of us with meager resources.

Why do anything manually anymore? There are refrigerators
willing to create ice shapes you once dared only dream of.

Progress is not being made in Florida. Progress is
not being made in Detroit. Progress is being made

in Macon, Georgia, in the maw of a marmalade cat
named “Marmalade,” whose starving body learned

to eat its own eating devices, but only the molars,
like a junkie finding new places for the needle, like

advertisers looking for new markets for the same
products others will always avoid. Lay the blue tarp

on the roof and call me when you wake up. Or don’t.
Seven million people will use exterminators every day

in ten urban areas of an average city, identical to those
who make use of the services of pest control technicians.

We shared a hatred for made-up facts that sound logical,
but are completely unprovable, since both statistics

involve admitting things people either don’t want
to admit or are too busy doing other things to admit.

The other things we thought made us special
only made us more ordinary: neither of us liked

raw tomatoes, but we thought a red sauce on pasta
the only acceptable way to go; it was possible to go

to bed early, obscenely alone, and to sleep late;
how Burning Man doesn’t mean what it should:

(a way to cut back on those who think it’s great,
Darwinian in conception and execution); a briny

ribbon’s touch of seaweed is not what anything
is all about, and in fact that phrase is objectionable.

In other words, we hated so many of the same things,
it seemed destined that we would also hate each other,

but while I was fucking your brother, your veterinarian
was explaining how desperate organisms will destroy

themselves in order to stay alive to continue destroying
themselves. A long siphon appears above the sand. Help

yourself. Toothless, it can be removed with no visible damage.

 

 

 

 


ERICA BERNHEIM is the author of the full-length poetry collection The Mimic Sea and of the chapbook Between the Room and the City. She is Associate Professor of English at Florida Southern College, where she directs the creative writing program. Recent publications include Burnside Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hobart, and The Missouri Review.


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