By Thom Gunn

(posted Wednesday, March 11)

To hear the poet read “Gossip,” click here.


First saw him
on the street in front, in the
bar’s garbage, identifying
unfinished beers and swigging
off what was left of them,
shameless and exuberant
remarking in friendly fashion
“It’s a doggy dog world.”
Charming error. He
had little idea of his looks
caught on a brief sill
between youthful lean times
and blowziness to come,
and too unfocused to try
hustling more than beer
and a night out of the rain.
Later, circling vaguely
the bar’s deep dark inside,
“Hitched up from New Orleans,”
he said, “here, wanna feel it?”
It was already out,
pushed soft into my hand. It was
a lovely gift to offer an old
            without conditions,
a present from New Orleans
in a doggy dog world.


Stories of bar-fights,
boasts of glory.
That’s the old cat
telling them, that one
with the tattered ear.
“Yeah,” he says,
“I was passing the wash house
back of the farm kitchen,
where I sometimes got handouts,
and there’s this passel of kittens
in a basket, mewing
their fuckn heads off. Well,
some of them were male,
future toms. You know I had
to do something about that.
So I dove in, checking
them males like I always can
(call it a talent), and I bit off
the heads of the ah
competition. Heh, the little gals
I left to grow up a bit.
Then there was that time,
I was still in the Marines,
facing a bar full of sailors
with jest a broken bottle …”
Vaunting voice grates
on and on, nobody listening, until
he has drunk himself
asleep. No longer deadly,
no longer dashing, nothing but
a shabby old tabby.