A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose

Athena Kildegaard

is the author of three books of poetry, Rare Momentum, Bodies of Light (a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award), and Cloves & Honey.

Her poems have been published in such journals as Tar River Poetry, Cream City Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and elsewhere.

She is a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

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Ailuromancy: Divining by Cats

Because she could read palms
my mother would have been cast out.
Men from the village
would have walked to her cote
to learn something they hadn’t dared admit.
And women, carrying baskets for herbs,
carrying a child in the womb or on their back,
would have sought out her ninth life truths.

In the kitchen she chopped and stirred
when my father sneaked up,
& so, leek in one hand, wooden spoon in the other,
she slipped away from him.
All around the island they went,
her pas de chat, his hungry hands.

It was believed
the ashes of burned cats
spread on a field
would bring a good harvest.
It was believed a cat,
curled on a cramped stomach,
would bring relief, and
cat fur spread on rheumatic
joints, on burned flesh,
on hives and sore throats
would heal.

It was believed cats were clairvoyant.

Four centuries ago my mother would have been burned,
a spectacle of denial. She would have met the flames
singing. One or two in the gallery would have sung along.
There would have been pitched jeers and wailing,
caterwauling, feigned joy, carnal and famished.

The smell
on a cat’s fur
you recognize
—the netherworld.