I Want to Be a Bad Bitch Cat of the Bronx

"Ode to Bodega Cats," a poem by Threa Almontaser

walking cat resized

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.

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