Thursday, January 09, 2003

Poem of the Week

The dog is chasing the cat around the ottoman, but I think the cat started it. Poor kitty: he lost his man-of-the-house status when the puppy arrived three years ago, and now that there's a baby around he's been bumped down to third-class, way out over the engines in the crummy seats at the back of the plane. Most of the time he gamely tolerates change with an aloof dignity, though it's obvious he's miffed. He gets short-fused and clingy, a dangerous combination; the claws will surely come out any moment now, and we'll have to rescue the dog from under the bed.

A cat poem, then. One written five years ago, when it was just the three of us and a deep longing for a child we could not conceive. A long one, tonight, using an obscure and hideously complicated form called a canzone. See if you can figure out the pattern in the form by watching the way the last words repeat.

Canzone: Cat, Child

I've been learning to hold the Buddha baby
Fen, a child named for a copse where faeries watch
their own children, maybe dangle a winged baby
on a slender knee; learning, but at the laundromat the baby
vibrates over the spin cycle in his laundry basket, leaves
me exhausted. My wife can make holding baby
look so easy, but her hips and breasts are built for baby-
carrying; you can see when she holds the cat
and rubs his scent on her shoulder: Cat
whirrs and chews at her hair and is her baby.
But not mine: when I come back he sniffs the Snow
detergent liquid and goes back to watching the snow

out the window. I've tried introducing cat to snow;
he just looks at me and whines helplessness, playing baby
until I help him work bits of frozen snow
from between his claws. He should know snow,
even though most of the time he just gets to watch
it from his armrest perch, speckled like dirty snow
in the sunbeams of late afternoon, but the snow
is my fault, always. In the fall he yowls for the leaves,
scratching at the door; and, sauntering, leaves
between anyone's legs; sniff-checks for snow
and then becomes a tiger blur: The cat
heads for the hills, and we must give chase. Cat-

footed in panic, we track pawed indentations the cat
hinted to his whereabouts with; find him under a snow
covered root, sniffing the faint stink of fisher cat.
And there is one of all these distinctions between cat
and Fen the Rainbow Child, or any baby,
I suppose, that's raised by the community: Where the cat
after running, with mouth open, pants his cat
wheeze of disdain, no matter how hard you watch
the baby is more interested in gears, in your pocket-watch,
than escape. There are so many ways in which cat
is in fact not the same; the cat, for example, leaves
housebreaking to the biological urge, and always leaves,

while baby doesn't run away (although later leaves
the nest, in universal teenage black-as-a-bad-luck-cat).
Fen can only walk when suspended anyway; dad leaves
him on the bed precariously for aching minutes; Jenn leaves
him in a blanket, in a cardboard box, for the snow
and her husband's rolled American Spirit: leaves
of willow and tobacco; a burdock; crushed spearmint leaves
and scraps of otherwise teas. Will the baby
fall off the bed? He's hardy; a display unit baby
that people can attend while his mother leaves
the water running for the bath and diapers. And you watch
helplessly, and nod, while the tub runs like a watch;

ticking into the basin. It's hard, too, not to watch,
with the genital nub so open like that -- it leaves
its sheath under vigorous scrubbing conditions -- or watch
when his mother's shirt is peeled up and you watch
for the nursing breast under the suckling cat.
Meaning, of course, baby. Is it hard to watch
the polarity collapse; the drift between the way I watch
the cat, the way the cat gawks at snow
in the windowsill, the way the baby's laughter is like snow?
How white eyes, wide like a cat's eyes, watch
the cat, but the cat weighs options: Pouncing on the baby
or ignorance feigned, or kindness? So the cat is not a baby;

it is surrogate, feeding the need for a baby,
or so I cannot help but think when I watch
my wife hold cat or baby. And when she leaves
she is silent while I drive us home to feed the cat;
and the radio louder than the thin fall of snow.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:43 AM |

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