Thursday, September 27, 2007

Return of The Cat People


Toby is a tom-kitten: chocolate-grey, slightly fluffy, a bit yowly and attention-seeking in the mornings, given to sudden manic dashes, but otherwise sleeps most of the afternoon, and he doesn't seem to mind the wean too much. Most importantly, he's a people kitten. That is, he likes being stroked and making like a lap-cat.

My wife's brother saw him wandering around on a traffic island off the main Wexford road. When he pulled in and approached, the kitten ran away. He gave up after a little while, only to realise that the kitten was following him back to the car. So he gave the critter to my wife for her birthday. She is delighted. So am I. So is my mother. I like the name Toby, too, though it can get mixed up with the Toby from Thomas The Tank Engine, our son's current favourite (DVDs, toys, t-shirts, shoes, pyjamas...).

It is about 16 months now since I found my wife's cat Sophie stretched out by the side of the road. She was already past middle age (her 'grand climacteric') when she came here and she did well to survive a few years on this manic rat-run through the leafy suburbs. We're planning to keep Toby indoors for a while, till he grows up a little, and hopefully grows somewhat calmer, at which point we'll encourage him to use the back door (giving onto the the safe, weedy gardens), rather than the front, with its steps straight down onto the cars' sacrificial long, grey altar.

This may be the only time I post anything that could be said to belong to that greeting card genre, 'The cat poem', but this seems a fitting occasion. Here's four. The first two (of which only the second is 'about' a cat) are by me. 'A Familiar' is from my recent collection, The Sky Road:

A Familiar

Shadowy desire,
for ages now we’ve been keeping
a place for you. Are you dead?

No, I’m still here.
Feel and you’ll find me sleeping
at the end of your bed.

Pet Cat

Our fingertips know what to ask for.
After helping dress the day
in its familiar surfaces
(clothes, doorknob, steering wheel, bannister-rail...)
they need you like sleep.

Entering the flow of your fur –
tingly pure electric gift –
each short stroke
is an unconscious cadence shaped
by the rising angle of your tail.

Turned on, your idling motor
is the absolute sound of pleasure.

Show us how to trace the current,
teach us to purr.

Of the following two poems (both addressed to elderly cats), the first, by Edward Thomas, is probably the stronger. It is certainly the tougher. Its rural sourness is kin to the later (R.S.) Thomas's poems about the Welsh countryside; a poem about trees contains the injunction: "Cut them down". The cat in Edward Thomas's poem is a world away from cosy 'Old Possum's book; the drowned kittens remind me of Heaney's 'scraggy wee shits' and the 'god' in the final line sounds coldly ironic. But it's the final poem, by John Keats, that I am fondest of, even if it does border on the sentimental:

A Cat

She had a name among the children;
But no one loved though someone owned
Her, locked her out of doors at bedtime
And had her kittens duly drowned.

In Spring, nevertheless, this cat
Ate blackbirds, thrushes, nightingales,
And birds of bright voice and plume and flight,
As well as scraps from neighbours’ pails.

I loathed and hated her for this;
One speckle on a thrush’s breast
Was worth a million such; and yet
She lived long, till God gave her rest.

To Mrs. Reynolds's Cat

Cat! who hast pass'd thy grand climacteric,
How many mice and rats hast in thy days
Destroy'd? -- How many tidbits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears -- but pr'ythee do not stick
Thy latent talons in me -- and upraise
Thy gentle mew -- and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists --
For all the wheezy asthma, -- and for all
Thy tail's tip is nick'd off -- and though the fists
Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
In youth thou enter'dst on glass-bottled wall.

"Pr'ythee do not stick thy latent talons in me!"

A great fuckoff line, no? An invitation to a list on a glass-bottled wall.


Crafty Green Poet said...

Hope Toby has a long life enjoying the back gardens! I love your poems, good cat poems are excellent, just as bad cat poems are to be avoided entirely, and both yours are excellent. I particularly love the last two lines of Pet Cat.

Mark Granier said...

Thanks Crafty, glad you enjoyed them.