Sunday, November 22, 2009
At a reading in Toronto the other evening, an acquaintance brought up what he referred to as my wonderful "cat" poem. I had difficulty remembering which poem he meant. Over the years I have written a number of poems about or featuring a cat. He was referring to one I had read to a small gathering in Gage Park several years before. I didn't have that one with me so I read a more recent one. The incident made me pause and consider.
Since I began to go out with my wife, long before we were married, we have always shared our home with one or more long-lived cats. One lived for nineteen years, one for over seventeen, and the current cat is going on sixteen and still quite healthy. So a cat, in one way or another, has always been there. And, since we write about what we know, about what touches us, it is no wonder that I have produced some "cat" poems.
I don't write little lyrical passages praising cats. Cats (for me) deserve much more. I tend to use one as a metaphor, sometimes for myself, my inner self, or for all humanity in its relationship to the natural world. I often use "catness" as a mirror to being human. Not in a fable-like way, nor do I endow a cat with human characteristics. Usually it's the other way around: I point out the "catness" inherent in people.
Cat poems have been good to me. They have won me prizes (cash and prestige) and brought me much satisfaction. Perhaps I'll leave you with one of my earlier ones.
SO LIKE A CAT
Your cat has particular manners, ways
developed for her own purposes. A voice
that leaps from articulate whisper to
bone-scraping howl in less than a second.
Hiding places that will change just as fast
as you can discover them. She has need
for constant warmth; on cold days she cocoons
among blankets, in the sun she stretches
out full length on her back.
----------------------And you have wiles
in common with your cat. Your body too
stretches to capture my warmth, slips away
from cool indifference. The place you hide
changes with the moon's phases. Tentative,
my hand reaches out for your approval.