for Stephanie

This morning when I found
a torn cat dead on my patio
it reminded me of the kitten
you buried under Orion’s Belt.

You were playing orchard explorers
leading the cat by the rope
your brother slip-knotted around its neck
for fun, he said, too young to know

how a knot could catch
the unyielding fence sometime
between night and morning
cat’s body stiff when we found it.

You cried that night the way my sister
cried when her cat Blackie died
that long ago winter on Chadwick Street
the cat Mama wouldn’t let inside

until he got sick and she put him
in the cellar where he wailed and wailed
all day, all night, clawing our dreams
until even she couldn’t stand it.

She carried him out by the scruff
of his neck to the old cherry tree stump
where Daddy raised the axe, blood
and pale sunlight spitting off its edges.

I still want death to be quick.