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Robert, Cat

He has been my sole companion, sometimes, for days
and weeks on end. Prisoner No. 1 and Prisoner No.
2, making do. Yet this solitude cannot compare with
his. At any time I can walk out the door—I am not
about to do any such thing; theoretically, however,
it is within my power. All at once I am ashamed to
think that if anyone is anybody’s sole companion, I
am his. And how many times, absorbed in work or
trying to kick its door in, deranged with elation
or disappointment, have I turned on him, responding
to one of his humorous offers to play the same way
a certain sainted parent often responded to mine:
by shouting so loudly and viciously that his ears
folded back and his sensitive eyes winced as if in
the face of heavy winds; and flooded with that male
exaltation that comes with any brief distraction
from its scared and bitter impotence, how many
times have I driven him from my room and slammed
the door behind him? How many times, later on,
from self-seeking remorse, have I found him asleep
on my side of the bed, or meditating in a circle of
sunlight, turning toward me his clear gaze devoid
of resentment or hurt or any slightest interest in
causing it; found myself in something like the
presence of unqualified forgiveness. I will never
understand anything except gradually; so gradually
that I never really get there. But I know this: his
end, when it comes, will be gentle and painless. It
will arrive at “the terrible speed of mercy,” I’ll
see to that. And when mine comes, I will know
better than to expect from other human beings the
mercy that would automatically be shown any sick
and incurably suffering stray dog.
Franz Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. This poem ran in the December 30, 2010, issue of the magazine.

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