Kathryn Nuernberger

The Petty Politics of the Thing


I was surprised by the teeth and meat-breath
of myself. We’re adults in an office. All the blue
computer screens hold very still and pretend
to be a beautiful view. It was not the kind of fight
a poem can understand, so I’ll tell instead
about the cat who drug the newborn rabbit
from the nest under my porch. I’ll tell you
that a bunny losing her throat screams like a panther
from within the fluff of herself. In a department
where everyone says they admire our collegiality
towards each other we file forms to chart
our feats of such-like professionalism. If
someone is testy another someone might
even say, “Thank goodness this is just a job
and we’re not alley cats stalking a nest of rabbits.”
And the vegetarian among us takes it hard,
because it’s not collegial to ignore her sensitivities.
And the veteran among us who fought in a war
he can’t talk about says under his breath,
“You think that’s gruesome.” But if anyone heard
him, they pretend not to. I don’t know if it is
the cat in us or the rabbit that keeps so silent.
Sometimes in the course of a day I hear
the cat-rabbit in the back of my mind whisper,
“I will fuck you up.” Oh, I love her. I love her
for how real she is. She can see through
even the most tangled bramble of rhetoric.
We are not animals, you learn over and over
in school, which is where they break you to
the fluorescent lights and geometry of so much
empty furniture in a room. Hush, little cat-rabbit,
I say. Thank you for reminding me, little cat-
rabbit, I say, it’s enough just to know.
In that place I’m sad I’ll have to die for a life
that was only ever a metaphor. I’ll explain
to you what I mean as that little whisper
of a voice explained it to me. Money is
a symbol. Books are a symbol. The office
is a symbol. Your clothes may or may not be
a chain of severed heads around your neck.
Your diplomatic tone is the sharpened tip
of an obsidian stone. Don’t feel mean,
I have one too. And when you say
I’m being melodramatic and not so much
is at stake in this silly bureaucracy
we idle our days through, little cat-rabbit
rumbles her stalking purr of so-close now.
To her it is the very meaning of our lives
we squabble over and she’s just been waiting
for someone to let me sink my teeth into it.

Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of two books of poetry Rag & Bone (Elixir, 2011) and The End of Pink, which won the James Laughlin prize from the Academy of American Poets and is forthcoming this fall from BOA Editions.