I didn’t replace you, girl.
I did clean the blood your body left
after the cancer came on, a slow crawl.
Then quick. Like you were bit
by an invisible monster.

It may never leave my memory
like you, my first baby. Most unruly.

I didn’t know what a guinea was
until the morning I woke to thirty birds crying,
treed by the door, covering our tin roof,
and you salivating, overjoyed.

You never wanted to maim, just play.
But the kitten, you thought, was a game
the barn cat played like ball.
You carried it to us.

Your jaws were strong even when soft.
Then a cop brought you home.
You were still learning boundaries and fences.
Almost hit by a two ton truck. Got lucky, girl.
You were my greatest adventure—
I thought. Until I had a boy.
You were his best friend for a short time,
matched his energy. If you saw him now
you wouldn’t recognize his size.

You’d know his smell.
He asks about you but has no real memory.
It’s the hardest thing about missing you.

Everyday after you died
butterflies bombarded us.
I told him it was you. He says “It’s Iris”
every time a butterfly passes
even as a teenager now.

He finally learned the word Heaven.
Asked me about the Rainbow Trail.
I couldn’t lie or say I don’t believe.
I asked him to make up his own mind,
he said, remember, she’s a butterfly.

We want you here not in Heaven.
We leave it at that.

We sold the RV you spent some of your last days in. And the house. Now we’re back
on acres and acres like you loved.
I let loose your ashes from my hand.
Gave some of you to the Brazos, watched you run and dance free of your cedar chest.
I kept most of you and put what would fit inside an effervescent urn around my neck
like an albatross.

We got you a little sister. It has healed
my heart having someone close
that reminds me of you. She curls up
into the teeniest ball on the blanket
I made covered in photographs of you
as a puppy, problem child, protector.

Shelby is sweet like you, a momma’s girl,
but you two would bicker for sure,
my alpha queen—I could never replace you.
Never would I want to.

And distance has caused only temporary pause
from grief. All these years I hear a pitch mimicking your whine, phantom noise
in the night. I call Shelby by your name
and sigh. No, nothing is the same,
except years come and years go, still I cry.

Selected byRaymond Hufffman
Image credit:tomasvl

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She was a 2023 winner for Button Poetry's short form contest, and her short story Eugene was nominated for a pushcart prize in 2022 by Dead Skunk Mag. Her most recent poetry has appeared in 3Elements Review, River Teeth Journal, Blood Tree Literature, and elsewhere. Her poetry books, "Strange Beauty" and "Summer Storms" are available on Amazon, and her most recent chapbook, "Smile, Child" is available from Bottlecap Press.