Joseph Powell



Even her porch was lined with boxes,
and cats, rheumy-eyed or clear, lay on shelves
above the washer and dryer, on cupboards and chairs,
or scratched in plastic dishpans filled with sand
spread like pots to catch a leak.

Her dentures didn’t fit, red lipstick
wobbled over wrinkled lips, a thin grime at her temples,
but her sheets were laundered every week.
When she invited me in, the laundryman,
she sat in a rocker and wrote a check
in a slow tottery script, stopping to tell little stories.
I watched the pen pause, hair float in window light.

Her cats were small-town legendary.
And though she had over fifty,
people kept dropping off more.
They walked away without ever going inside
where crusty saucers spotted the floors,
cats ate from the frying pan and dishes on the stove,
and the smell like an animal larger than all the cats together
moved everywhere at once on brown toes.

I didn’t know the inside of her life—
what love had done, the paths ridicule
made through whatever garden she was prone
to dream of, the pathos that seemed an answer,
that nugget of loathing required to love this much
the things others abandoned.


Joseph Powell has published five collections of poetry.  The first book, Counting the Change, won the Quarterly Review of Literature’s Book Award in 1986.  The most recent books, Hard Earth (2010) and Preamble to the Afterlife (2013),  were published by March Street.  His book of short stories called Fish Grooming & Other Stories  was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, 2008.  He has also co-written a book on poetic meter called Accent on Meter published by the NCTE in 2004. For his poetry Joseph Powell has won a National Endowment for the Arts Award (2009), an Artist Trust award (2005), and the Tom Pier Award (2006). He has been Central Washington University’s Phi Beta Kappa Scholar of the Year (2004), and was awarded Distinguished University Professor in Artistic Accomplishment (2009). He has taught in the English department at Central Washington University for the last twenty-nine years.

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2 thoughts on “Joseph Powell

  1. Why is “loathing” required? It makes sense that you’d have to love loathing itself to love fifty cats and their detritus. But I don’t find an analogy for love AS loathing. Pity isn’t necessarily a form of contempt.

    What hint am I overlooking?

    • That you would have to possees a certain degree of self loathing to make you feel as abandoned and cast off as the cats. And because of your empathy -you are driven to love and nurture them.

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