Philip Wexler

Understanding


Shaded by the blue flowering wisteria, my sister

and I small talked on the recycled plastic bench

before she welled up with tears over her latest

altercation with my best friend. I believed her version

no less than the equally plausible and conflicting one


I gathered from him when he called me to gripe

the day before. She denied most everything

of his account. She simply didn’t understand how

he could be that way. She took me up on my proposal

that the three of us meet at 8 at The Pour Excuse Pub.


I called my best friend later in the day. He was on board

for our get together, though disputing her take on him

and said she was “beyond understanding.”

Into my second beer, I realized he wasn’t coming,

nor was she. I left behind the mug, half-empty


like me, and trudged home. No word from either

of them. “Just one of those things,” I decided,

and crashed out. In the morning, they woke me

with their knocking. There they were at my door,

all smiles, holding hands, inviting me to join them


for breakfast. As I opened my mouth to speak,

their extended palms signaled me to back off from any

cross examination. “It was a misunderstanding,

that’s all,” my sister explained. “Exactly,” my best friend

chimed in. I didn’t press them, and said I understood.



Cat People


Months passed and I had no luck

getting very far with her. Her veneer


was animated but her core, frosty,

impenetrable. I began to grow


tired of the game. I sent flowers

when her cat, Scampi, died,


for all the good it did me, or her,

or Scampi for that matter. I never


did see the creature for she always

had him confined to her bedroom


at the top of the stairs. All I knew

of this off-limits zone, my holy grail,


was the closed pink door keeping me

out. It was her love of Shrimp Scampi


that inspired the cat’s name

but Scampi wasn’t all that lovable.


With regularity, he’d scratch her legs,

hide in any open cupboard or drawer


and throw up in the kitchen sink

or so she’d tell me in exasperation.


I wasn’t sure how genuine

her weepy voice was when


she called with the news

of his demise. Still, I needed


to be sympathetic if I was to have

half a chance with her. Maybe


after the cremation, she would

take comfort in my arms.


Flowers were an easy token.

In a week I called to see

how she was. She thanked me

for my consideration,


and we arranged to have dinner

at Bistro Milano, our usual haunt.


We met inside the entrance.

She was wearing one of her many


silk scarves patterned with cats.

Bubbly and aloof as ever,


a combination she excelled at,

she seemed not to need cheering up.


She let me plant the obligatory

millisecond kiss on her lips.


I wondered if she saw or felt

the moustache I started growing


at her request. She set in

to gabbing effusively


about her new kitten – Osiris,

named for the Egyptian god


who ruled the underworld,

she told me, and also


symbolized the renewal of life.

She scrutinized the menu


though she must have had it

memorized, with all the times


we’d been there. I was surprised

she was having the Scampi,


her usual. I told her how sorry I was.

She lowered her head


with a solemnity a bit mechanical

but didn’t change her order.

After our meal, she invited me over.

Maybe this would be my chance.


We sat on the sofa, thighs touching

and drank wine, while she cuddled


Osiris on her lap. I looked longingly

up at the bedroom and noticed


the door surprisingly ajar. A corner

of the bed was in fluffy pink disarray.


“Colorful bedspread,” I said,

“would you give me a tour?”


She didn’t get the hint.

She never got the hint.


We were startled by the door-bell.

Osiris jumped onto my shoulder


as she went to answer it.

A somber delivery - Scampi’s ashes


in a cat-shaped urn of stone.

She sat back down next to me,


setting the ashes between us.

After several moments of mutual silence,


she commented that it was getting late

and that the cats (notice the plural)


needed to get to bed. Osiris, on cue,

scampered into the bedroom.


It looked like I’d be striking out again.

Osiris’ muffled meow seemed


to mock my very emotions.

But inspiration comes unexpectedly.


Deciding “now or never,”

I got down on all fours at her feet.

She looked at me intently

for a long while, and made a sound


I could only describe as a purr.

She bent down, moistened a finger,


rubbed it tenderly along

my nascent moustache,


and commented that my whiskers

were coming along quite nicely.


She took off her long silk

scarf, knotted one end loosely


around my neck and led me

up to the bedroom. She ejected


Osiris by the scruff of his neck

and closed the door behind us.


Scampi we left behind

on the sofa, none the worse


for the wear. I felt I might grow

to like cats for real.

 

Philip Wexler lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Close to 200 of his poems have appeared in magazines. His poetry books include The Sad Parade (prose poems) and The Burning Moustache, both published by Adelaide Books, and The Lesser Light, by Finishing Line Press. Two other full-length collections, I Would be the Purple (Kelsay Books) and With Something like Hope (Silver Bow Publishing) are scheduled for release later in 2022. He also organizes and hosts Words out Loud, a monthly spoken word series convened via Zoom.