Debra Matthes


                Dodge and weave, the female cat always conceives, like me, but she will have a brood of kittens, as I should have had as many children, none survived, but I did. What if you could be judged, not by money wealth, but by the wealth of kittens you could adequately care for, nurture, and love? Gangsters are like that, too. The wealth of them, you can nurture, love and care for. He is going to give me a clutch of kittens, too soft to touch without tears. It breaks my heart that he is so sweet to me. I am enchanted.

                The gangsters are full of gifts and pronouncements of love and faithfulness. A tenderness that crushes me. They are tired of being alone, now, and full of love. It is how I write: in love, overwrought, alone, and distressed at 3:00 o’clock in the morning.

                The snap on his jeans rasps against the plastic chair, rocking as he sings mournful songs of joy. Old Gospel songs full of tears and suffering for his people, giving me gifts: jeans and a cache of gray shirts. And, an old black crumpled belt to hold them on to my lithe old body. Diminished by trauma. The trauma that dodges and weaves in and out of my life.

                He knows all the words to all the songs on the rhythm and blues radio station, too. He knows all the words that dodge and weave in and out of his civil rights complaint to try to get off of parole.

                This is when poetry comes to me. Just like this. In the early morning when I cannot sleep, they are there with me then to help me get through yet another night of pain that threatens to crush me, but with their gangster love, I survive, singing sad songs of heartbreak alongside them.

                I must leave up the screen for the next idea but I do not. Instead, I dodge and weave
and have to go back in again and again to write what comes to me through them incessantly.

                Tonight, I’m still in love with Renaissance music: Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Marche Pour La Cérémonie Des Turcs, its haunting viola da gamba, and timpani pounding, is a heartbreak and is tattooed onto my mind. This somber and ebullient Baroque song is our song.

                We smoke old tattered and broken cigarettes while the bright planets shine
near the full moon on my birthday. He insists that he will bring me a mother cat
full of kittens. I will caress each and every one of them with tenderness too soft to touch. They may not all survive, but I will.

                This is what he brings to me: tenderness too soft to touch, a secret cache of kittens, a wad of ones, and black gloves with three white fingertips on each hand. C’est un innocent.

                He is strong, hard-bodied, tattooed, and crude but the way that he looks at me with such tenderness and longing breaks my heart in two.

               When I make us tea, I give him the smaller cup. This is what I do.