After my brother died, his wife was sure he was living
inside their cat, Rocky. He’s in there, she’d say, staring into
those blank, yellow eyes. Isma’il? Isma’il? Can you hear me?

She’d tell anyone who came by how the cat would slip into their bed,
put a paw on her cheek, and just look at her. Or, other times,
crawl under the covers, turning his furred back to her chest.

My brother had picked out the cat when it was just a kitten,
brought it home for his kids. And there it was, still roaming
the hallways he would never set foot in again.

He’d miss driving them to school, making them pancakes,
reading them to sleep at night. So, even though he took himself
out of their lives with a single bullet aimed at his heart, I see now

that, if he could, he’d find a way back to those he loved —
not as a ghost, but to walk again among them, almost silently
on his tender paws. Perhaps it was the least he could do,

to pad up the stairs, only the heat of his small body to offer,
his cool and steady eyes.