Gary Soto



                        Practicing Eulogies


Momma cat died in the weeds,
A stink swirling in my nostrils
Until the flat hand of slapping rain
Leveled its odor. Then a neighbor died,
The one who said, Look, I got my wife's cancer–
His bony hands transparent as paper.
That was more than I needed
–mortal cat and mortal, old man–
And walked to the courthouse to sit by a pond,
Sickly fish gasping, their gills like razor slits.
Turd-coiled toads lay on the bottom, not daring to come up.
I was stirring the surface with a finger
When a suicidal cricket leaped into the pond.
Honest-to-God, I tried to save that armored insect–
My hand scooped and scooped
Like a pelican. The fish,
Sick as they were, ate antenna and spindly legs.
On the way home, I petted a stray dog,
Stared at a bird's egg cracked like a crown,
And wondered about death,
That flea-juice under my fingernail.
I grew scared. In the kitchen,
The neighbor's rooster was on the stove,
Boiling among diced celery and coins of carrots.
Do saints ever sleep? I asked my mom,
And she said, Put out the big spoons.
We ate that rooster,
Tastier than store-bought chicken.
After dinner I got Frankie's left claw
And my brother got the right claw.
We worked the tendons like pulleys
As the claws opened and closed on things–
My laughing brother picked up pencils and erasers.
Sensitive me, I went for the box of Kleenex,
Tendons closing and tissues jerking up like ghosts.


Gary Soto, A Natural Man, Chronicle Books, 1999.