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Beth HinchliffeJune 29, 2023

They knead my leg,
her tiny mounds of instinct,
the secret razors barely sheathed beneath,
until they suddenly draw blood.

Aurelia Plath had placed her on my lap
as I sat stiffly on the couch where
decades and bodies had erased
the pattern of its weary fabric.

“She was Sylvia’s cat,” Aurelia says,
pulse shuddering in her throat,
tightening the words.
“She called her Sappho.”

It is 1973. Ten years after
God’s lioness stifled her own voice,
after the towels under the door
saved her sleeping babies.

After Aurelia threw back her head
in that primal howl of grief, guilt,
anger, fear at the telegram:
“Sylvia died today.”

And now there is only Sappho for Aurelia.
The babies are lost to their father.
Her parents are lost to time.
Her daughter’s memory, lost to the world.

And through it all, through Aurelia’s blinding fury,
the madness of anguish, the desperate scrabbling
to keep her memories untouched by ugliness,
Sappho sits. Kneads. Watches.

And now she sits on me. Turns her head
to measure me. Presses into me,
as all those years she pressed into Sylvia.
Soundlessly, constantly, working her paws.

I touch her fur tentatively, she doesn’t stir.
I stroke her, lightly, then harder, feeling
the muscles tense then relax, the rhythm
Sylvia would have felt.

Sappho’s eyes. Locking my gaze as
she once locked Sylvia’s. Harsh,
glistening agates, not judging, not mournful,
not beseeching. Just seeing.

I leave the house, with its 10-year-old air, and
on the side table a card To Mummy, Love Sivvy.
Trembling Aurelia stays and weeps and rages for 17 years.
And for four more years Sappho watches, and remembers.

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