The Warning

Matthew Sweeney

That sizzling morning, I lay on the lawn,
beneath the totem pole I’d brought back
from Nevada, and painted white and black,
to ward off ghouls, ghosts and evil men.

I had Coltrane playing from the hallway
and was humming along. The black cat
was poking and hissing at the white cat,
when a crow landed a couple of feet away.

Both cats scarpered when he opened his beak
and cawed, dropping a piece of red paper,
to be exact, a neatly folded page of notepaper,
as I saw when I stretched out an arm to check

what he’d brought. It was typed in blue ink,
and purported to be a warning in rhyme –
including archipelagos of identical rhyme –
that this garden and others would soon stink

of putrefaction, and I and the cats would lie,
decomposing, beneath the striped pole,
the ludicrously inappropriate, exotic pole
that was supposed to enable me not to die,

at least for a century. That’s what the man
said when I’d bought it, the Native American
who claimed he was the only real American,
he and his dwindling kind. I needed that man

now. He was one who could talk to crows,
I was sure. Hadn’t he shouted at an eagle,
a symbolic, black and white, bald eagle,
that was America. I loved his long nose,

his lopsided dance under the full moon,
tipsy with whiskey, then his croaked song,
his sharing of that famous, patriotic song
I forgot as soon as we stood under the sun.

Anyway, the crow flapped and flew away,
without a sound. The cats scuttled back,
lovey-dovey now. I stretched my long back
and got to my feet, to make my sad way

out from under the totem pole. Why me?,
I asked, as I walked back to the cool house,
the suddenly transformed forever house.
There was no answer from the boiling sky.

The cats ran in, black and white, around me.
I looked out at the black and white pole,
the beautiful, appropriate, necessary pole.
I poured myself an unseemly early whiskey.