On the porch sits Cleopatra the meditating cat,
an uproar of birds in her amber eyes,
poised on her haunches ready to strike,
with no malice or awareness of self.
She pads into the kitchen with her Zen walk,
barely touching the floor, giving away not one secret.
You want to know her secrets.
You’ve been living for years with this cat,
her pink paw pads and noiseless walk.
You look for clues in her reptilian eyes.
What is she thinking? you ask yourself.
How does she know when to strike?
You’re startled by the stealth of her strikes—
they fool the birds and surprise you too. Always a secret.
She makes a fetish of bathing herself
until her coat shines like a seal, not cat.
Riddles hide in her sphinx-like eyes
and no one knows where she’ll next walk.
If you got a leash and took Cleopatra walking,
the neighbors would see how striking
she looks with exquisite sunshine in her eyes.
They would talk about stealing her in secret,
reminded of the statues of Egyptian cats
they saw at the Louvre, craving such beauty for themselves.
You protect Cleopatra and yourself
by watching where you go and how you walk,
never hinting that your house has a silky black cat
who earns her keep by finding small animals to strike.
There is no bottom to the layers of secrets
echoing in her yellow eyes.
At day’s end Cleopatra gets in bed and shuts her eyes.
You join her in the mystery of nocturnal self,
of dreams that hold past lives and other secrets.
In them, you tiptoe and leap and do a slinky feline walk
and have no mercy on the creatures you strike,
waking up feeling part woman but more cat.
by Leslie Bergner
Editor’s Note: Often, a sestina’s repetition can be tedious, but this poem avoids that trap by wisely omitting the three line envoi at the end. And, too, as any adopted human knows, there is no persuading a cat into following the rules.