It’s June—the theaters are finally
open. Alone in the back row,
there is nothing so American as this,
and a cupcake, and being your own driver—
nothing less than a public bathhouse
or a shared double bed.
The 10 or so pair of other patrons
have their backs to me
like short lines of privacy hedges
someone couldn’t afford to finish,
or the telegraph and grief,
woven together by necessity.
I shut off my phone.
The hero of this film is old
and lives alone. Relatable.
He does not speak, but five minutes in
he’s striding thru the forest
toward a sound like a wheel rattling
over a hard turn until it’s righted
and becomes a steady, low roar.
It is early morning or it is twilight;
impossible to discern the features
from one day to the next.
A tight shot from above:
the hero is bent over a bobcat,
her paw caught in a coil-spring jaw trap,
staked by a chain to the earth.
The kind of trap that hasn’t improved
since the 1800s when violence
was the only beam supporting a porch eave.
When couples slept in twin beds
separated by a nightstand with a candle.
The soft light that makes everything feel personal.
He pulls a syringe from his pocket
then drives the needle into the space
between her shoulder blades. She quiets,
tongue lolls; he gets to work releasing her paw
then carries her to the cabin to dress her wound.
Bobcats are solitary,
do not keep to a single den.
What could be said about his cabin now
and in the 1800s is that it lacks a feminine touch.
I haven’t bought her fresh flowers in months.
He is careful to keep quiet, or
has grown that way, the bobcat
is penned off in a room next to the kitchen
lined with old newspapers.
Days pass in minutes, and you are meant
to observe the trust between them building—
at first it is all skitter like a log has been lifted,
then more like a motor rebuilt by hand
that still needs a crank on cold mornings.
Finally, the heat stays on.
At home, I keep my windows open
to smell what other people are cooking,
close enough to a gesture of love
but there’s no teeth,
nothing snagged in a great tree branch
or running blindly through the woods.
The hero presents a live rabbit
the bobcat shreds in 40 seconds.
If I were home I’d be drinking
and pacing the small hallway
that connects my bedroom
to the main living area, phone to ear,
on the other end she drifts away
from my emergency, long and slippery
like a drugstore receipt.
Wild nights—wild nights!
Some feel best when empty.
This morning I went to a grocery store
in another neighborhood—my secret plan
for chance encounters; how I oscar in self-care.
The bobcat stalks the trash can
in the corner of her room.
I try to buy popcorn
but the concession stand is closed.
There is power in never being seen eating,
but everyone in this theater is already immortal
because the days are gone.
The bobcat licks her lips, purrs,
rubs against his leg. Danger begins
when they let you touch them.
Nights I tried to press my heart
through the computer, dreamt of cords tying her to a wall.
Now I watch porn while the emails pile up.
Someone needs to get paid.
Or maybe it’s daytime and we should all be working.
I return to my seat. What have I missed.
The hero is readying the bobcat
for a return to the wild.
I forgot to mention how gorgeous she is—
but doesn’t everyone
have a terrific imagination
unless they are basically dead?
At a time of day according to clocks
I walk my dog deep into a park
where a beast in the bushes
might want something from me.
There is frost on the ground,
but nothing else has changed.
He loads the woodstove
and the logs spit and roar.
This place could go up in smoke at any moment—
the theater hasn’t been updated since the 80s
when I was a kid with a bike and a lying problem
and the whole world was an ear of corn, half-listening.
Do you remember the song about everything
as we know it being over, but personally feeling fine?
The hero cooks a final meal for the two of them;
at home the dishes are long drowned
in cold water and do not cry out for my touch.
I mark each surface of my apartment
with strands of hair, shopping lists, the distance
between me and my desire beyond
the 6-mile range of a bobcat,
but also covered alone in the dark.
If I fell in the forest and no one heard
the dull thud of my blonde body.
If I got really drunk and texted her.
If I only now recognize the bird in my hand,
but am 4 stories up, 6 blocks from the tangle
of barberry and spirea in front of the church,
where I learned what I hated and who hated me—
46 years or 90 minutes in
and it’s time for the big release:
he’s been training her to hunt,
stalk the beam of light from a pointer,
bristle at his hand—like most confections,
parenting dulls the mind.
Wind doing the thing that wind does:
all over and inside of me then leaves
on a train by 11, bra folded into a purse.
How often will he think of her pale
yellow eyeshine, tail ticking like a clock’s hand
around her body, the cabin a quiet terminal,
the terminal years with motors that pull,
arm over arm, the body alive if not awake.
He lures her out on the front porch
by clicking his tongue and psss psss psss.
Do I remember following her home,
closing in on touch, the cool parameter
of her body—no, this isn’t a time to dream—
I’m paying attention as he bends down and murmurs,
stands back up and with his boot gently pushes
the bobcat toward the lip of the porch.
The woods lay out in front of them
like peering into a window and seeing
someone you don’t really know
stretching before bed.
She stands ground, looks up.
Get out of here. Get. He’s charging her,
she circles his legs, mewls. God she’s
something. Our hero is selfless, will not
stroke the ear tufts or clean between the pads—
whatever pact gets made that pushes one,
alone, into a cabin in the first place,
whatever hurt with a crown, whatever brother
had to die or woman ignored—no.
He’s throwing rocks, chasing her into the dark.
Long shot. Pan in. Don’t you ever come back here—
he chokes, spits, his hand to his eyes.
She looks back at him once,
slinks into the pine grove. It’s snowing.
Credits roll, I say the names to myself, imagine
calling them out from the kitchen or the bed,
some sound like people I might like to meet.
Honey, bring me my pills! The lights never come on.
It’s me, my bag, a black screen, and an instrumental
jazz piece. But wait—nurse, doctor, friend, usher—
is that you? Ma’am, it’s over, it’s time to go—
a masked voice from the aisle whispers.
I rise, move toward the sound.
Paige Ackerson-Kiely is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Dolefully, A Rampart Stands (Penguin 2019). She lives in New York City, directs the Sarah Lawrence MFA in Writing Program, and also teaches poetry in the New England College low-residency MFA.