Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

“You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it,”
    Maggie the Cat admonishes Brick, moving in her slip

across the screen of the renovated theater in the West-Texas town
    of my youth, a projector casting slow-moving clouds

onto the curved ceiling where the bulbs of small stars blink
    and flicker, though this showing is a Saturday matinee,

and the heat of mid-July just beyond the theater’s doors rises
    in waves from the asphalt, thrums through the air

like desperation itself, the way the ranch hands and roughnecks,
    out of work because of drought or oil wells sunk

through caprock into barren earth, stand, hat in hand,
    beneath the awning of the Post Office, sweat dried

to a poor-man’s halo behind leather and silver-Concho-adorned
    hatbands, purchased by their wives or girlfriends

on a honeymoon or liaison in San Antonio while the entire time
    each man only thought of work, how, once spent, he stood

half-naked at a hotel window overlooking the river winding
    its way through downtown, past shops and restaurants,

a mariachi band circling the tables for tips, the musicians
    moving like a river, the songs like a river, No Tengo Dinero,

El Rey, Volver, Volver, played over and over each night,
    as the ranch hand or roughneck ran his fingers through

his thinning hair then lifted the new hatband from a bedside table,
    the hatband, he knew, his wife or girlfriend could not afford,

traced his thumb along the edge of a Concho as if it were
    a Spanish coin dropped by Cabeza de Vaca on the banks

of the river, and though the roughneck or ranch hand
    did not speak—the silence in the room heavy as the humid air

in which the woman dozed—he thought some version
    of the mariachi’s words, of the words with money, the word young,

that Maggie the Cat is trilling at Brick, her voice trembling
    like the drink in his hand—“you’ve got to be one or the other…”


Jonathan Fink is Professor and Director of Creative Writing at University of West Florida. He has published two books of poetry: The Crossing (Dzanc, 2015) and Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the Soviet Union and the Siege of Leningrad (Dzanc, 2016). He has also received the Editors’ Prize in Poetry from The Missouri Review, the McGinnis-Ritchie Prize for Nonfiction/Essay from Southwest Review, the Porter Fleming Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and Emory University, among other institutions. His poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Narrative, New England Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, and Witness, among other journals.


Back to Issue: Spring 2022