KINGDOM OF CATS
I sit in a Roman café, unbearably good looking though nobody seems to notice. I get so lost here. One table over, someone speaks Italian in a masculine voice, and it makes my neck tingle pleasantly. I think about the man kissing the vein of my neck, and accidentally bite my lip. I notice the track marks on my arm and yank down my sleeves. I’m not a drug user, I’m a diabetic, but an outsider would have no way of differentiating the two, just as how there’s no way to differentiate between a café guest who wants company and one who is waiting for their spouse.
“That little potato is getting on my nerves,” my mother said as she sent me to reform school. “There you’ll grow into a tall girl,” she continued, and patted me on the head. And she wasn’t so wrong. It’s just that not all tall girls turn out to be models, just as not all women turn out to be mothers in the truest sense of the word. “Too late to complain,” mom wrote in the Get Well Soon card that she sent in reply to my hateful letter. The coordinator had instructed me to write one in order to Promote Positive Thinking, but forgot to mention that it should be dropped into the Mailbox of Hateful Thoughts, not the actual mailbox. My life’s greatest lesson: Don’t Trust Authority. In Rome, cats have their own kingdom, Largo di Torre Argentina. It’s the same place where Brutus stabbed Caesar. Caesar’s greatest life lesson: Don’t Trust Anyone.
At reform school I stared at the TV, continuously growing taller and angrier. Sick. Brain dead. People came and went. I stood in the shower line until I was clean and ready to be shoved forward. One day the support person patted me briskly on the shoulder and said “Good luck to you in life. Do it in style, all the way to the end.” Adulthood had begun, or had it? The question could be answered a zillion different ways.
Rome had lost its splendor, and the same is happening all throughout Europe. Only a trace of perfume remains, but we all know that perfume only accentuates the stuffy smell of dirty clothes. I wait in line for the museum, even though I don’t understand why I should hang on to anyone’s past, or why the past should hang on to me. I turn and nearly collide with a woman who takes hold of me by the shoulders and tries to calm me, though I don’t want to calm down.
You always hope for happy ends to stories, but when you open your hand to let it go, you find a fist, and then the rage starts to simmer, as if everything happened just now and not forever ago. Even though I hate my mother, I can’t let her go. I hit, but there are too many tubes, and she disappears behind her cardiac event. As a sick person. As a brain dead person. As a disabled person. She doesn’t have to accept anything more, so my rage remains with me instead, like the Queen of Spades, undefeated by any other card until the end of the game defeats the game itself.
My escape into these streets where nobody knows me is pointless, like a scar on skin that’s been burned through, or a dream rendered inconsequential, even though I ended up here
because of a dream. In it, I was in a city full of old buildings. Floodwater covered the streets, but I wasn’t afraid; I had to find my true love while the city drowned in water. I have to say that I imagined Rome to be different. Maybe the dream was about Venice after all.
I miss Berlin, that city full of vampires. There aren’t even any good clubs in Rome, just nightclubs for whores and businessmen. What am I doing here then? Drowning my hatred, or myself, just to make sure that one or the other is useful to someone. Impoverished religious people find uses for everything, even for the fact that someone can no longer speak or move.
When I was little and my cat had kittens, my mother took them in the backyard and drowned them in a bucket of water. “Don’t cry my little darling,” I said to everyone I met that day. “Too many bugs,” my grandfather replied. He was already crossing the line beyond which you just disappear into an institute for the forgotten. Later, his hands had to be tied to the edges of the bed because he kept pressing the emergency button.
On the cat drowning day, we had guests. Once they were situated comfortably in the living room, I went and removed my clothes on the floor and then waited for my mother to pick them up. I will always remember how uncomfortable she looked, as if between us something shameful had occurred. I don’t remember what ultimately happened, but I do remember the melody of the ice cream truck in the background. It felt approximately the same as this trip, like a bride who’s holding a big bouquet in an empty church where it’s no longer windy.
The sun is setting on the kingdom of cats. A newly postpartum mother cat turns to its feet and starts to lick its kittens, which begin to emit little squeaks as if they were already feeling the pain of the end of nonexistence. The mother cat eats the steaming afterbirth and purrs. Is that the door I’m pushing against, time and again, only to have it stay closed to me? A nun passing by mutters: “Hail Mary, virginal, hail thee who without sin hath bred.” I have to admit that motherly love confuses me time and again. It’s hard to find comforting thoughts, or any thoughts at all, from its remains.
When I find the hotel again, I’m exhausted. I do all my stretches carefully, though I get confused on the glute moves and have to repeat the final series. I dig out some nut paste from the bottom of the jar, but then I put it back. My only hope is to remain tall and slim for as long as I can. The dried-up glob has traveled between the jar and the knife for the past two years, but I can’t throw it away. I start to cry and it’s like a horrible déja vu.
In the dream I wander an apartment with tall white walls. On the other side of the street a taxi waits. Next to it, there’s a gesturing man I thought I said goodbye to a long time ago. I stride over the piles of snow left by the snowplow, and reach him. He kisses me passionately, he does it time and again, and he says that he wants to be with me forever. I wake up because it sounds so unbelievable. I started to wake up once before, because the taxi meter was ticking and the motor was idling in neutral. I can’t tolerate wastefulness because I’ve never gotten to experience it. There’s no doubt that at the fundamental level, dreams appear more and more like the
movies we’ve seen, but our reasons for waking up relate more to the real traumatic experiences of our lives.
I wish I believed more, so I could wake up less, but my kind of people have to stay awake until the end. Even then, the trip won’t be over. The pieces will just click into place, the traveler will return home, the circle will reach its beginning, and if not, then someone will make one out of string and the cat (they can’t resist circles) will step inside.
THE EXPECTANCY OF JUNE
the expectancy of June the examination
men throw darts in a bar
beautiful women get better service
invisible dirt continues traveling along its path
i dig kitty litter in a tar grave water in my heels
slime at my hem
i talk to walls
to crammed liquids
at the beach the clouds flourish
my mind is light with its own uncaring
YEAR OF THE DOG
the dog sniffed at time borrowed from underneath the floorboards the child colored a coloring book, and became itself visible
large too like a strange voice on the phone
someone banged on the door
so that nobody was brave enough to go open it the wind blew ragged nerves around and around
in the bathroom lay a dead woman
an aborted child hidden away in a quiet place behind an old phone number
the festivities could have ended there
but they did not end
the man kept on cutting pictures in his room the branches gleamed wet and dark
black butter on the kitchen table began to melt
BTCH IN HER MAZDA
In the hospital ward of my non-architecture-representing studio apartment!
I’ve licked my arm for an entire day!
No, it’s not getting easier! These aragonite depths!
I devour dandruff from a cup! Make a mess of the days! Like a feebleminded roast!
On all fours I hunt my bones! On my knees!
On my back!
As the day ends against the opposite wall! My head glistens!
I’m a space head!
A restless nobody head!
I slut around!
Am I a btch driving aimlessly in her Mazda!
A cat in a shark costume riding on its Roomba!
In the light and the shadows I go! A lonely parasite in the cat condo!
Tytti Heikkinen is a poet who lives and writes in Hämeenlinna, Finland. She has published poems in Finnish since 2008. In 2013, Action Books published her first English-language collection, The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, translated by Niina Pollari.