Poem of the Week | January 30, 2017

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Alex Chertok. Chertok has work published or forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, The Cincinnati Review, Willow Springs, The Journal, Quarterly West, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others. He was awarded a fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and completed his MFA degree at Cornell University, where he was also a Lecturer. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.

Author’s note:

My girlfriend’s cat died recently, and it wrecked her – not because she was particularly close with him anymore, but because his death ushered her back 16 years to when she first brought him home, half-tailed and glued to the back of the cage. This was her age of transition lenses, when her hair was parted down the middle and she’d spend her summers at the lake with her cousins, before adulthood kicked in. She felt like she was both saying goodbye to her cat and seeing off her youth for good.

I watched pet owners come and go from the vet’s office that day, and it was clear who was suffering: it was written in their bodies, in the way they held their shoulders, or each other, or the empty crate with their pet’s phantom weight inside. In the room itself, before the injections, the vet warned us that animals can spasm or defecate reflexively, but our cat didn’t. He never made a sound. The move from life to sleep to death was seamless and quick, without ceremony, full of the peace and fright of a hard-fought thing suddenly gone. All he did was close his eyes, then get heavy in her arms.


Leaving the Vet’s Office


Something’s changed in the young girl.
Something in her gait. Something’s
gone limp in her arms. Some white serum
has put them to sleep, some blue serum
has made them dead weight at her sides.


She’s lost her old rosiness. Something in her’s
changed color. Some sad-looking lilac
has bled its ruddy lungs into her vase water.
Some dying kelp forest has dyed her ocean greenish.
Something in her feels blue. Some sky


is going jaundiced with rain. Some crate of her mind’s
been opened and emptied, some load’s
been lifted and placed in some ribbonless box on her lap.
Some rawboned gift’s inside. Something in there
paws at every bump in the road. Something


she knows will never again be held, be heard.
Something will be brindled from now on by its new black room.
Some white koan’s been given its blue answer. Some
white keening’s been given its blue muzzle.
Some other moan’s just begun.