The Cat

by JOE O’SHANSKY | Sarah Stecher Prize, student poetry contest

My workout is the stairs, floor to ceiling
Because no one should go outside anymore
Green carpet levels, six stories high
No wind, not horizontal
But I can see the city through the windows
Rising and falling
And that’s close enough

Been sitting for a year now, and we talked about that
The sedentary life killed my dad, and I need to get off my ass
Don’t take the elevator, you said
Sounded like a good idea at the time
I’ve outlived my father by two years now
Though I don’t think I’ve lived much differently
And ever since the first day after
I heard the clock ticking more urgently

In the basement hall I saw the cat, at the end of the cinder blocks
It saw me first, I waved, raised
My right arm, breath heaving, the unwelcome shock came
My right arm grabbed my left, my knees met concrete
The cat, still and considerate
Echoed meow


Born in Manhattan in 1971, Joe O’Shansky came out the same year as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Straw Dogs, and Shaft. Despite no visible means, and being six years old, his first movie in a theater was Star Wars. His second was Saturday Night Fever. After moving to Tulsa he discovered Siskel and Ebert. And that was it. Decades later he became a film and pop culture critic for Urban Tulsa Weekly and eventually The Tulsa Voice, as well as contributing to This Land Press and Root Tulsa. He currently drinks, cooks, and eats with his best friends.

Nancy Nguyen says: “Masked Up” was created at a time where Asian Hate crimes were rising in the media during COVID-19. This piece displays the battle of Asian Americans with pixels and masks as a struggle to maintain identity due to fear.