I Want to Be a Bad Bitch Cat of the Bronx
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Ode to Bodega Cats
In the window of my grandfather’s corner store,
a cat dressed in my hijab. I feed her titans
of war, pluck Muhammed Ali out her chest wound,
sharpen her a legend in the lake at midnight.
Outside, a wave of Yemeniyat beat a man
after he gropes someone’s daughter
in the crowded street. They do it all in abayas.
Full-veiled niqabs. Unstoppable ninjas with
a hundred power-ups. And I know each one
had a bodega cat as a sibling. We learned
the ecology of courage, how to weave one
into our biology, the kind with a third-world
gut and claws out for the cops. What’s the word
for a bodega cat’s disciple? Vroomed exhaust,
indecent daughter, gray impression on the grid,
ruthless? We keep our scars. They throb
when we pass their glowing eyes, invasive
as a second language. If anyone has taught us
to fend for ourselves, it’s the cats on Tremont Ave.
The cats here are made from nothing. One day,
nameless limbs, small square of sidewalk, like a fig
fallen too soon. The next, a gang member’s mascot,
beast born from an Arab’s love and coked-up rats.
A woman in tragedy also grows that fast,
turns from whimpers to wind in seconds
with the right kind of violence, and after,
makes herself a home for the lost who look
for it. Even the drunks that enter can sense
these cats are off-kilter. They take her on anyway,
leave with one less eye and night terrors.
She gobbles the glass bottles they swing, spits
them out as bullets, laps their blood like
a creature of darkness. She conflates the brute
with the hero. She kills her kids with calmness,
knows how these streets latch on to anything
too green. Bodega Cat Sensei doesn’t give a single
fuck. What is there to fear when you’ve already
licked the edge? I want to be that baddie.
That bitch. That witchy intuition wrung tight
as my braids. Won’t find me frozen in the woods
with my scarf stuffed in my mouth. Won’t find me
as a scraggle scaled salmon swimming upriver,
flung into a muddy ditch and left to rot. I’ll be funnel
of yellow heat who goes running into a field.
All I want is to be an adequate ancestor
to the Yemeni women who come after. Who visit
my grave with bundles of nut meat for their great-
auntie with the immortal hips, that, myth says, broke
high facility fences and let out all the paperless.
Future long-haired girls gliding above all
that had happened before them. Who will salt
their stories with my own living and become
part of it. So after this lunch break, I’ll head to work
and whistle back at the guy who shouts, Nice tits
because it’s true. I do have nice tits. And a nice
peach emoji, and a birth story, a Khaleesi
walking out the fire. Let them find me dressed
only in leaves, bathing with bodega cats
and their panther mothers, breasts wagging
akimbo. I can’t forget those women who clapped
back. Who did not wear worry with each black
layer. Did not let things happen as they usually do
then drop like rotted fruit when it was over.