The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Linda Scheller

Birthday Party: 1966


I am allowed to invite three friends

for homemade cake and Kool-Aid

as long as we stay outside. We laugh

and play Red Light Green Light,

Musical Chairs, Freeze Tag, Statues,

and the cruelest game of all.


Mother, may I?

                                No, you may not.


My mother steps outside

carrying a pitcher of Kool-Aid and sees me

flick water from a paper cup at a friend.

My mother turns the pitcher upside down

over my head. It was only water, I gasp.

I turn my dripping face toward my friends,

three statues frozen with open mouths.

I thought it was Kool-Aid, says my mother.

She hustles me into the house to change.

I change into a cat.


In the days that follow my transformation

my friends avoid me. They are only human,

after all. I spend my time with my pet cat.

She walks with me through the yard,

and her tail conjures elaborate stories

with happy endings.

At night she burrows beneath the covers

to curl in the circle of my arms,

warm and soft, and purrs me to sleep.


The Saturday after P.K.’s asthma attack,

my mother tells me, Bring your cat

and get in the car. She won’t say why.

My mother drives us to the pound where

my cat is taken from me and locked in a cage.

Her eyes stare at me through the bars.

I reach in a finger and touch her. She purrs.

My mother says, Now go on, say goodbye.

I change again.

I become invisible.




LINDA SCHELLER is a retired teacher who lives and writes in California’s Central Valley. Her poetry and plays have been published in Notre Dame Review, Slipstream, Connecticut River Review, The Distillery, Wisconsin Review, Poem, and many other journals and anthologies. In 2017, FutureCycle Press published her first book of poetry, Fierce Light, a collection of persona poems in the voices of 36 women from world history and culture. Two poems from Fierce Light received the 2020 Catherine Cushman Leach Award. Ms. Scheller is a founding board member of the Modesto Stanislaus Poetry Center and volunteers as a programmer for KCBP community radio.


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