Third-Place Fall Contest Winner: “old cat, new tricks.”

scene. bedroom of small but homey apartment in cambridge, ma. a steady stream of river water is flowing out of the noise machine perched on the windowsill. bed is center stage. stage left is a bassinet usually occupied by a two week old baby girl. her name is Luna, and she is as beautiful as the sunrise she was born into. stage right is the changing table for said beauty, because even beautiful things get dirty. the cat meows.

cue baby needing to feed.

its 2:45 in the morning on a sunday in a week that has yielded a total of 24 hours of sleep. Luna has communicated her need for food loud and clearly. and as the milk is heating up, the cat meows again.

Luna sets up a room in her belly for this new bottle. it’s welcomed with warmth and acceptance. this milk was quite literally made for this body and both of them know it. the feeding is a homecoming. the burp, the nights final song. but then, the after party.

cue diaper change.

as diaper is being changed, Finn mmmeeeeeooooowwwwwsssss. he is ignored as he has been the last two weeks. he refuses to be ignored again.

cue Finn throwing up downstage right on the bed.

cue the laughter that comes from being over tired. the closed eyes scrubbing. the pains of helping something you love grow.

all that is beautiful has been hand washed. the moment is a memory planted to bloom a laugh tomorrow. goodnights are wished.




daybreak. a handwritten note on scrolled parchment paper pokes out from under the pillow. its signed this isnt over, Finn. it reads:

last night was a warning.

a display of disapproval. dramatic?
yes. i know. but that is the only way to grab your attention now-a-days so forgive me for demanding your attention but damnit i have something to say.

a few nights ago, while exploring the multifaceted adventure that is the back room you’ve painted and redesigned with land for me to lay claim to, i discovered a path which lead into the crib. the ground, absorbent but firm. clean.

as if awaiting the arrival of something delicate. pristine. something that should be handled with care.

something like me.

as i began the release of my body, granting my paws the rest they are always hungry for, finally feeling at home, you…

who do you think you are to remove me from such bliss with such force?

where is the crime in resting? who have i insulted that your reaction was to grab my coat and toss me aside as if this wasn’t my home. as if i didn’t live here years before you ever even knew there was a door to walk through.

you live because she loves you.

the little one i do not care for. but the one with the golden smile, she… she loves me back. i have been placed here for her protection. i am here because of her protection. we have an understanding that surpasses the wedding ring you keep on losing and replacing with rubber ones.
i promise you this, touch me like that again and your sheets will know blood.

what happened to us? we once were passengers on the same track. were once routine for comfort. you treat me now as if i haven’t been there when you cried. now the baby cries and you run to her side. i cry, and you tell me shut the fuck up.

is this the price of being first love?

when you grab me like that – with the same hands that cradled my purrs to sleep – and you indicate to me to i am not welcome, uninvite me from my own home, why do you act surprised to find my insides sprawled across the bed?

what better poem can i write you? what clearer message is there?
treat me with the love that is mine or you will not know peace. hold me the way you hold the baby and maybe you might survive. honor the arthritis in my bones and celebrate any new land i claim. the heights i can reach.

my body is storage for the trauma you inflict. a treat and a cuddle may not do it this time. first a list of my demands:

    1. get rid of the baby.
    2. at least 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners with snacks in between.
    3. allow the dog out of the crate only when i request it.
    4. bring me outside and sit me on the porch daily. i will tell you when its time to go inside.
    5. and read to me

i’ve seen the way you read to the baby and i want that type of attention. that type of care. speak to me in Spanish. sing to me the songs of your father. dance with me the steps that lead to healing. i’ve seen you do all of this, and at hours of the night i have not seen you active before so do not tell me this isn’t possible.

just love me.

the ways you did when the house was less crowded. love me, and prove your apology true. that your reaction, your aggressive eviction of my body from the crib, was an act of desperation. of wanting sleep for the baby. of wanting sleep for yourself. and not of wanting me gone. of wanting me invisible.

this is my house.

i christened it with shit in that corner. placed my paws on every platform. pranced in every pocket. pretended not to listen when they call my name. who is she to take precedence over my needs. over my comfort. this place is my sanctuary. i’m already sharing communion time with the dog, now you’re telling me the baby is here to stay? and you want me to accept this?

accept my throw up on your bed. accept my 3 am wake up calls in your face. accept my hair on every square inch of this apartment. you will take me with you on your clothes and like it. i will not be denied. i will not be made afterthought. i will meow, and cry, and pitter-patter, and rise your pressure, and look good doing it. pick me up damnit. now put me down. feed me. and feed me again. here, taste these claws. remember you live because i allow it. because i am in the business of protecting. if harm comes to you notice if i care. i hiss at your negligence.

notice, how i dont come on your side of the bed anymore. rejection doesn’t look good on me so i no longer try. watch as i hide when you approach. run away when you come near. how does this avoidance feel? i treat you worse than strangers. strangers haven’t broken my trust. strangers havent vowed to love me then toss me aside when something smaller came along.

choke on your apology. if you ever give me one. Finn



its been days since Finn has been seen. his food bowl refills and empties. the clanging of his collar is heard but he has kept himself hidden.

under the bed, the symphony of construction plays. first the dragging of claws on wood. then the hammering of pieces coming together. the demand of Luna and the dog are its own caution tape preventing the lifting of the bed skirt to check underneath.

another week passes. still no sighting of Finn.

the pacifier falls from Luna sleeping mouth as she is transferred to the bassinet and it rolls past the bed skirt, deep under the bed. hands and knees are not low enough to retrieve it. chest on floor with arm stretched blindly searching. a latching on the wrist of claw and desperation drags the rest of the body.

the body is whisked away deep in the underbelly of under the bed. there is nothing to grab onto when the guilt of guilt shames the fight out of the muscles. when exhaustion becomes a tenant of bones. this day was always going to come, when Finn would seek justice. now Finn – with his claws dug deeply in wrist – pulls and pulls and pulls and these are the doors to the museum of pain caused by the loves you discarded. he scratches, and skin becomes a monument of promises unkept. a mirror to the fickle inside. this pain is both a noun and a verb. both a place and an experience.

the body snaps back.
stands up.
arm, a documentary to the shedding of itself. proof of purchase for waking up to now. how now, love is in high demand and the supply wants to be endless. demands it so. wife. Luna. dog. Finn. wife. self. breathe. repeat.

there is no anger, no resentment for the harm done. there is no space for it in the body. there is empathy. there is intentional kindness. treats. songs. dances. space for rebuilding. there is Finn, meowing, getting his face rubbed, then purring.

and there’s a toy ball, dropped at feet, with desperation in Coco’s puppy eyes.


About the author

—Anthony Febo is a Puerto Rican poet, teaching artist, and new dad living in Malden, MA. Febo has been performing and teaching poetry and theatre for over a decade in the greater Boston area. His ability and love of remixing different forms got him featured as part of WBUR’s The ARTery 25. In the classroom, Febo treats each workshop as it’s own celebration. He draws on his experiences in theatre spaces, museums, non-profits, and art centers. On the stage, he’s toured the country individually and as half of Adobo-Fish-Sauce: a cooking and poetry collaboration. His work examines what it means to actively choose joy in the face of what is trying to break you. Weaving performance into his writing, he examines issues such as toxic masculinity, family, culture, identity, and the role representation plays into a person’s development. His first full length book of poetry, Becoming an Island, can be purchased at Game Over Books.

 About ‘old cat, new tricks‘:

“Shout out to parents. To caretakers. To pet owners. To plant owners. To big siblings and cousins. To our elders. May you all find the space to show yourselves the love you give endlessly to others. “old cat, new tricks.” was an experience that wrote itself. Maybe it was the irregular sleeping of the first few months of parenthood, but you can’t tell me that’s not how it went down. I’m honored to have this story find a home in The Writer. Thank you for empathizing.”