KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Poem: 371 words


by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

My death coach says I’m doing a great job, but it doesn’t feel like it. 
When my favorite cat snoozed on the work table, I read in my chair. 
Then she sat near, not on my lap, and then behind the spider plants. 
I can’t get close; that must be what she wants. 

My death coach says Ash is looking for her place to die. 
So many possibilities. She tries out my dresser. The table 
on the back porch. Even curls up in the bathroom sink. 

My death coach keeps asking me what would I want? 
I would want to be alone, not surrounded by strangers 
anxious for their shifts to end. I would want everything 
normal. Why would she want a blanket over her now 
when she never did before? I am so stupidly human. 

We set tinier and tinier bowls of food in front of her 
hoping at least to mime the rituals of daily life. 
She takes herself to the litter box still. Good cat. 

Her fur is no longer luxurious. I can brush her with my hand. 
The insides of her ears are turning yellow, leaflike this October. 
Her eyes sink back into her skull but she still sees. 

My death coach helped me realize that if I’d had her 
euthanized, it would have been to end my suffering 
at seeing her less than her bold, assertive self. 

My death coach rolls a joint and says, “Smoke this in her face. 
It will help you both.” Ash doesn’t want to be touched much. 
My father was the same way, but I touched him anyhow 
to pay him back for disappointing me in my childhood. 

The death coach calls to tell me I’m doing the right thing. 
I return to the ounces of bones and fur still breathing deeply in her ribcage, ragged, 
drool sliding from the corners of her mouth. Ash is still beautiful 
to me. I leave the room to feed the birds, already getting cocky 
on the windowsills. 

When I come in, she’s gone to the basement 
where I find her in the morning, not beautiful in death 
but when she’s slid into the grave, she lands, curled up, 
head on paws, sweetly familiar. 


Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s
Issue 11, Spring 2019

first full-length book of poetry, Dominant Hand, is available from Mayapple Press), and she is co-author with artist Mary Hatch of Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry (Kazoo Books, 2018). Other books by Kerlikowske include The Shape of Dad (a memoir in prose poems), Last Hula (winner of the 2013 Standing Rock Chapbook Competition), and Chain of Lakes.

She has been publishing her poetry and fiction for more than 20 years in such journals and magazines as Encore, Cincinnati Review, Passager, and Poemeleon, among others. Her work is anthologized in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016), The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015), and the Michigan writers anthology published by Western Michigan University (WMU). She also creates visual art and has recently completed the Hester Prynne Chair, first of a series of literary women chairs.

Kerlikowske completed her doctorate in English at WMU in 2007. An arts activist, she has served for many years as the president of the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry, and she is also president of the Poetry Society of Michigan. She recently retired from a teaching career at Kellogg Community College.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Artists Mary Hatch and Elizabeth Kerlikowske in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018); includes half a dozen of Kerlikowske’s ekphrastic prose poems and micro-fictions inspired by Hatch’s paintings

Three in Prose by Kerlikowske in DIAGRAM (Issue 5.1): “Forty Winks,” “The Girls’ Room,” and “Midway”

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