LAST CAT’S CONUNDRUM

Standard

Where did everybody go, do you suppose?
I thought I had them counted, every nose
going about its business everyday—
dog in the grass, cats in their litter tray;
now eat, now sleep—precise punctilios.

It started when one of the ones who wear the clothes
left us, went wherever someone goes
who never comes again. That’s when I began to say
where did they go?

Later on, my brother cat lay down and froze
in a forever sleep.  There was such weeping; flows
of tears like rivers. Then, oh, no! The dog fell prey
to that inscrutable. I feel as if I’m yesterday,
trying to know, waiting for my eyes to close—
where did everybody go?
.
.
LAST CAT CONUNDRUM

83 responses »

    • I lost all the other pets this past spring, one right after the other, and it is fascinating to watch the one remaining cat cope with the disappearances, the sudden quiet and lack of hubbub. Thanks, Cindy

  1. I love it and I hate it. It has made me weep. I know that is how they feel, even if they can’t give poetic voice to their dear thoughts, Cynthia.

    • I so enjoyed reading your love/hate expression, M-R. Whether the animals, birds, bees,…fish? experience anything like our own emotional states or not, we will continue to project and intuit that they do. There is truth beyond language for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. I hope Lui is adjusting to his new digs.

  2. Oh, this is so touching and sad – It must be such a change for Lulu too, having a household shrink from four to two in such a short space of time, It’s hard for both of you isn’t it – and yet you have brought it home in your usual word and rhythm wondrous way.

    I like that our pets might know us as ‘the ones who wear clothes’ rather than ‘the ones who provide food’. I remember that Orlando sat solemnly beside the burial box of the companion of his youth for an hour or so while her burial plot was prepared. He then visited her grave often – but that may have been because I planted it liberally with nepeta……….. 😉 One does wonder how they feel about their departed friends and if they recall them often and with affection.

    ‘I feel as if I’m yesterday,
    trying to know, waiting for my eyes to close—’ This is so evocative and clearly universal and cross-species. It clearly describes my experience on some days!

    • That image of Orlando is so sweet. I also planted nepeta—we call it catmint—over Beau’s grave. After living so long in the city, Lulu is a strictly indoor cat, so she doesn’t go out to enjoy the catmint. However, that plant seems to attract butterflies, which she enjoys watching from a cushion by the open window—her customary station for napping. When they flutter by or land on a bush she bites the air, as if she is catching them.

      The end of the poem did feel as if it were crossing species to me, too, though I hadn’t intended that originally. (Feeling like yesterday, indeed…) Our obvious connection to the animals shouldn’t feel strange though sometimes it does, probably because of the silence of its language.

      • I think I have been made a better person through learning to care for my animals and to understand the little aliens as best I can. It’s no wonder we experience that pet sized hole in the heart when they leave our sides. I remain convinced they also feel the loss deeply, though they may be better at living their lives gracefully through loss then we are………

        • A home without a pet is inconceivable to me, though it may have to be so, in the near future. My sister just got a puppy, Golden Retriever, and I might convince her to name me official godmother and dog sitter. That way I can enjoy the critter without the more rigorous tasks of ownership. A couple of years ago, when I moved here, I had a beautiful black chain link fence installed all around a large lawn for Chloë to run and play in. My sister doesn’t have a space anything like it so… I shall tempt her with that…and my three brand-new blue frisbees that never got used.
          I agree that the animals are better at living their lives gracefully; not only through loss, but through everything. They don’t make up reasons why it should be otherwise than it actually is.

  3. Ah! The eternal question for us all – dogs, cats, mice and men! Okay, I know you didn’t mention mice but maybe they wonder too!
    Great poem Cynthia – evocative, as always!
    Maybe in the unexpected and unusual stillness that you describe, lies an answer! 🙂

  4. Give Ariel her food and she is happy. Open the door and leave–and the food is forgotten, even if it’s her favorite of favorites.

    There’s a value in companionship, and it’s more powerful than tangible, corporeal needs.

    And though the crowd may be gone, two is still company: you and Lulu, and a bunch of noisy party favors–it’s company and a crowd!

    • Two can indeed be excellent company….Lulu was unflappable when all the fireworks were bursting in air the other night. And, unlike the dog Chloe, who despised and would bark and show her teeth to the vacuum cleaner, (my good excuse for not taking it out and about too often) Lulu won’t budge a hair when I come at her on her carpeted resting spot in the sun and simply seems to expect me to clean around her…..the noisy party favors might be a good idea!

      • Ariel isn’t afraid of the vacuum cleaner. It’s a minor convenience, like receiving a pamphlet from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

        • My Jehovah’s Witnesses are two well dressed ladies and a boy in a suit and tie. They turn their car into my driveway and stand ringing my doorbell for a spell, and only leave the pamphlet wedged into the side of the screen door when it dawns on them that there’s no chance in Hades of my making an appearance.

          The Assembly of God, on the other hand, was two ordinary, middle-aged ladies who brought me a basket of goodies to welcome me to the neighborhood. I left them standing on the stoop and chatted through the screen door. One of the things they asked me was: do you believe in God? Who doesn’t? I replied. They were very nice and never returned.

          The JW do return periodically. I have a poem about them in my archives: ARMAGEDDON LESSON.

          • Do you believe in God? Who doesn’t? I replied. Lawrence Krauss, said they–and they left.

            I suppose that ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’ doesn’t apply to proselytism. I don’t know, I always enjoy getting bonbons and and other sugary confections no matter who does the giving. Come in, Ladies, Gentleman, small Eunuchs… and leave that box of summer candies with me.

              • Have a heart, Cynthia. Let them in. It usually just takes a pledge of somebody else’s worldly goods to get rid of them. I usually commit my barber’s entire fortune their coffers. By the time they find out the pledge has no legal standing, the box of bonbons is nearly empty. You need to read my book: How to Profit Handsomely From The Gullibility of Jehovah’s Witnesses Without Ending Up in Hell. It didn’t sell that well (one copy, which was later returned). I blame the publishers.

                • Whoever came up with that book title (must be your editor; doesn’t sound like your style) didn’t seem to understand that it’s too long, and not catchy— while at the same time mysterious— enough. “Bamboozling for Bonbons,” would have had much greater salability.

                • I’ll need to re-launch the book with the new title. I’ll add a chapter on The Assembly of God, just to cover the bases. I’m getting pumped about this.

                  Your ‘I told them I am a hermit and never go out’ rejoinder from the comments (only 6! must be 2012) section of ARMAGEDDON LESSON is solid. That’s the kind of material I am looking for.

  5. You have the power to make the reader bleed. Opening the poem with a bustling family, you made them fall one by one into that fathomless slumber, in that matter-of-fact manner. Then I think, I am being cruel: it was of course not you. You only told us what happened, what would happen, with those beautiful verses.

    • It’s an ancient device, isn’t it, Uma, to imagine animals can speak, or that they think and feel as we do. That’s probably why there are so many philosophical and political cartoons that feature animals as the mouthpieces for their human creators. Thank you for your very kind words.

  6. So sad Cynthia – to say goodbye to the last one. I love how you allow us into your world, to feel and sense the pain that has surrounded you these last months. You are in my thoughts these days – take care my friend. (leaving for NY for my nieces wedding, will be back next week).

    • The last one is still with me, Mary, and quite feisty for a sixteen-year-old, though, as this poem says, she’s trying to figure out where everybody else went.

      Do have a wonderful time in New York! The weather here in the Northeast has been beautiful so far this summer.

  7. A lovely and lonely piece and one that humans and, I believe, animals would understand if they spoke our language (or we spoke theirs). I have two cats, found along life’s travels, and they dislike each immensely. They fight off and on all day. Yet, when I accidentally closed the window one night between the kitchen and their outside pen, and left one of them outside, the other woke me up to let me know. At least, I assume that is what she was saying by her caterwauling below the window. I, like yourself, always wonder after one of the lot dies, if they are thinking, “Am I next to go?”
    Ginene

    • That is such a funny story, Ginene….almost like humans in a family where bickering mates or siblings are the order of the day, but when the chips are down, there’s concern and affection underneath it all. I’ve never been sure about the meanings of caterwauling. My cat does it on what seems a regular, consistent basis, but I can’t always tell whether she’s complaining or celebrating. We can’t speak their language any more than they can speak ours, but no lover of these creatures will deny that there’s some kind of communication that goes on. I’m pretty sure they experience a sense of loss, or absence, though they don’t have theories about death. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. I am so sorry. This poem is so sadly evocative. I lost 5 cats in 13 months: all were elderly (15-22 years old) and the last one—he had grown into a stoical cat, who dutifully got up to eat, but took little pleasure in it. “Where did everyone go?”

    • I seem to recall that you had about nine cats, at one time in the past. I hope there were some younger ones among them, to keep you going. Your mention of “a stoical cat” reminds me of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—for which I think Eliot will be remembered well after his other works will lie mostly unread. Of course I share in your sorrow, too. Thanks, Natalie

  9. Death “that inscrutable” sums it up perfectly. I didn’t know the word “punctilios” and all the on-line dictionaries corrected my spelling to “punctilious”. Is it the same meaning?
    The phrase “I feel as if I’m yesterday” is thoroughly discombobulating and makes a body feel lost and out of sorts, just like a cat or a person would feel when there’s too much change and too much loss.

    • Punctilio is the noun form of the adjective punctilious. Maybe, since I made it plural, the famous ghostly internet editor couldn’t cope; that and the fact that it’s not a word so often used these days. I just googled the singular “punctilio” and there it was. I chose it, not to be difficult or elitist (as some people think I do) but because it fit my rather strict rhyme scheme for the rondeau. And I do like unusual words, especially if they are not too sciency sounding.

      Too much change and too much loss…..you got that right.

        • I am sad, too. We had a lot of fun there. But I am even more sad that he decided to use his own pain as a reason to lash out at me–on his own blog and on mine, a couple of weeks ago. I had thought we were friends. I got the message, folded my tent and stole away. It’s always a great sadness and loss to discover that one’s esteem for another is not mutual.

          • I’m so sorry to hear this – kind of shocked, really. Everything I read between you two sounded like high regard for each other’s talents. Social media is a strange world and people behave in such unexpected and ugly ways. I come to your blog for your beautiful poetry which never fails to transform my day in some way. Do take care and I hope this event doesn’t stay with you.

            • Thank you very much, Susanne. I have followed your journey as a writer for a while now, and so much of it reminds me of my younger self. You have the talent and the vocation, and it’s only a matter of time for you to find your way. Whether that means fame and money and/or something else, no one can know. But it’s all good—as you’ll find, if you stick with it.

              Your hope that an event won’t stay with me is useless (as you know). I have discovered that—especially when writing is your thing—no experience is ever completely lost, though it gets re-worked in many a story or poem. That might be what is called sublimation.

              I’m honored that you find my poetry beautiful, and am touched by your understanding and good wishes.

          • Misunderstanding, for sure.

            The courtesy and tenor of my comments on this blog and on those of my regular readers in the past four years will have to stand as my witness and defense against the above accusation. I hope those who have come to know me will find it as incredible as I do.

      • I love learning a new word, and with the internet it is so easy to check up on its meaning. Hope I can remember this one. Lovely little word with a slight staccato done on tip-toe.

  10. I started and lost it—but had to get back to tell you that it’s true and good and familiar. Now that tears are gone I’ll have a bit of dinner and a special treat for the cats. I look forward to the next.

  11. pee ess. This is so none of my business BUTT perhaps you would consider adopting another small cat or small dog from a shelter who would be sooooo grateful to come live with you? I had enormous and small dogs (and cats) all my life and the only difference in my humble opinion between a big dog and a small one is their size, Also it never occurs to the dogs they are small. My Jack Russell believes he is a Rottweiler. Don’t feel old before your time to feel old. Forgive my bluntness. I am Australian. My family were swamp dwellers. God bless them.XXX

    • You bring a big smile to my face, Sharon. I too have always had at least one dog—sometimes two—usually fairly big dogs, because I love big dogs and they were always the ones left longer in the shelters when I got there. I have always, also adopted my dogs and cats from shelters. This last dog, who died in March, was almost a year old when I got her from a kill shelter in the state of West Virginia where 75 dogs were kept in a 25-dog space. There was a group of women here in New England who fostered adoptions from such places. Chloë was the dog’s name—she came with the name and we didn’t dare change it,; she had enough “issues” to contend with, as it was. She turned out to be a lovable idiot, once she was convinced that she was safe and loved. ..a wonderful, wonderful companion. She was twelve, last year, when she died…really from old age. I’ve written quite a few poems about my dogs.

      The cats, too were adopted from shelters. I have several poems about them in my archives too. My cat Beau, who also died in March, was nearly twenty years old. The recent lullaby poem “Sleep My Little Cabbage,” is about him.

      Now about feeling old. In spirit I am as young as ever. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak, as they say. My mind is sharp as a tack, but alas, my mobility is a problem, and I live alone. That’s the only thing I don’t like about being seventy-two, which is my age. A lot of athletics and injuries in my youth have rendered me incapable of walking without support. I use two canes and am even more comfortable with a roller walker. Therefore, I move very slowly and painfully. I cannot possibly walk a dog. I cannot even bend to pick up my cat, if she’s on the floor. I’ve had to give up having a garden. Contrary to what society is always pushing, there are many good things about old age. I am not one who thinks about “the good old days” and lives in memories. I don’t live in the past….and the future is, well, pretty clear and not far away. The cliche about living in the now, is a developing art.

      I have to laugh at what you call your bluntness, and how you chalk it up to being Australian. I am slowly learning more about Australians, thanks to blogging, and I like what I’m learning. So I’m glad you are one, for that sounds like a really nice thing to be—swamp dweller and all. 🙂

      • I loved your response and I get it. I loved your “Sleep my little cabbage” I am good at living in the now too and pleased I am not one to dwell on negative stuff. Being an aussie is pretty good. We have a lot of fresh air, clean water and an abundance of wildlife. Our food is plain but VERY FRESH and we grow a bit of it ourselves. I love going out to the courtyard and grabbing the fresh herbs and veg. (after I shoo the crocs and snakes away) ;-D

  12. A tear in the eye after this one. I do love your writing, you say so much with so few words. (I was initially sad thinking of my dogs and cats, then I thought of my Guinea pigs – I had them both from babies. One of them died at five and I expected the other to pine and waste away…apparently not. She got a new lease on life, ate twice as much, ran around twice as much and generally looking gleeful, finally passing away last year at 11, which is very elderly for a Guinea pig! Perhaps a loner like me 🙂 )

    • My first good belly laugh of the day, Bianca, and this day is almost at an end, here in New England! The story of the Guinea pigs reminds me of a married couple I knew….when the husband died everyone thought his ever-devoted wife would pine away and be unable to cope without him. But she, like your Guinea pig, got a new lease on life, went out dancing, bought new clothes, took up painting, travelled, and generally had a fine old time until she died many, many years later, of old age. (She didn’t re-marry, of course 🙂 ) Maybe it is indeed about loners, which—speaking from experience— is not at all a sad thing to be!

  13. I’m on “break,” so instead of doing my own thing, I’m responding to your fine poem with the first four stanzas of a Judson Jerome poem I think you’ll like that I clipped out of a litmag some 20-25 years ago:

    THE OFFERING

    When kitty caught a chipmunk and
    dropped it dead at my feet
    and looked at me with Christian eyes
    and said, ‘Take, Eat.’

    I valued her strong instincts and
    her predatory skill
    that culminated in this act
    of feline good will

    but could not tell her how it was
    that I, although not miffed,
    was simply not well qualified
    to appreciate her gift,

    and she was better off not knowing
    that I was so unfit,
    or what, when she had done her best,
    I really thought of it,

    • At the risk of sounding like I used to, I’ll say: that’s so cool!

      Doubly cool because I haven’t thought of Judson Jerome in a while. When I was beginning to be really interested in writing poetry, in the 1970’s, Judson Jerome was the poetry editor at Writers’ Market. He awarded a couple of my poems prizes in their annual contests. We struck up a correspondence at one point and he sent me one of his chapbooks with a lovely inscription and his signature. I liked his no-nonsense (read non-academic) treatment of poetry questions and followed his column in the magazine with great enjoyment. He was a beacon of common sense. I eventually gave up on the poetry scene (for about forty years) and lost track. I believe he has since passed away. But he was a dear man. Thank you (even without your knowing) for reminding me. That ole’ serendipity strikes again!

      • ….and I am doubly pleased to have struck such a chord because, as you say, I had no way of knowing of your past Judson Jerome connections. I very much appreciate hearing about it.

  14. Oh so sad …. losing pets is a horrible feeling – but to have it happen multiples over a short span is even worse. My heart is with you and the remaining pet.

    • Thanks, Frank. I have been keeping up with your “Opinions in the Shorts,” even though not leaving comments. ( My opinions on most of the issues are better not shared… 🙂 ) I trust all is well with you, and very busy.

        • There are so many trade-offs involved in blogging and life outside of blogging. It takes a while to find the right balance between posting one’s own and enjoying other blogs…the inner circle that makes a regular community… number of readers, new blogs discovered, whether one goes for quantity or quality in visitors and comments, etc. It’s a whole emerging science/art of balance and limits, I guess, and moreover it has to fit one’s unique situation. Not for the faint of heart….

          • I’ve maintained for a long time that blogging is about the community … so I guess that’s what’s bugging me because I’m not holding up my end of the relationship … so yes … maybe I’m just trying to find my new balance point.

  15. My old buddy, my daughter’s cat, is getting ready for transition to the place where everybody go. I am glad that I took many pictures of him in May knowing he wouldn’t last long. He is loved, every family member spent a personal time alone with him to say goodbye, and now it is only a matter of time until he goes – another week, may be. I won’t see him again in this life. This poem has a personal feel to me.

    • Obviously you know how attached one can get, and how these wonderful little creatures can become part of the family. I share your sadness and sense of loss. It sounds like your old buddy had a happy life, and nothing is better than that.

  16. I DID miss a poem! I like the way this one gets inside the head of the last animal (some would be pleased to be the one left) and combines animal thoughts with words like punctilio. The form (rondeau, you say!) suits, but goodness, the losses pile up, no wonder the poor cat is confused. I remember this winter when all hell broke loose and you wound up with one animal. That’s a tough one…

    • With the joy of having them around comes the inevitable pain of losing them, finally. Those seem to be the two sides of the coin in so much of life. I don’t really like too much anthropomorphizing of plant or animal nature, but it’s hard to resist a certain amount of comparing them to ourselves when you watch them day after day. I doubt what my cat feels is interchangeable with my own feelings, but she certainly seems to have noticed the change in habits and environment since the others have gone, and watches me much more closely than she ever did before….as if she cannot lose sight of me or I will disappear too!

  17. A remarkable rondeau, Cynthia, for the way you’ve adopted your surviving cat’s perspective and rendered its feelings of loss and foreboding so deftly. I like it a lot.

    Robert Westall, the late-great children’s author, whom I knew in the latter 80s, was very much a lover of cats and wrote about them often, as in his novel ‘Blitzcat’, in which a she-cat deafened and blinded in the Blitz psi-trails her beloved master, changing human lives along the way.

    And three years ago, my partner Maureen Weldon co-edited ‘Cats Cats Cats’, a poetry anthology about our furry friends. She remembers the cats in her life very fondly and loves the three kept by her daughter and granddaughter now, as I do too.

    Very best wishes from North Wales,

    Paul

    • Thank you, Paul. I am amazed and amused at the insatiable appetite of the audience for stories and poems— and art in general— about cats. As I mentioned above, I am convinced that the famous T.S.Eliot may eventually be remembered for his “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” as much as, if not more than, his more serious poetry.

      Our feline friends are the most marvelous of creatures, and it seems we never run out of plumbing their mysteries. There’s always the danger of falling into the cuteness of “twee” when we try to write about our pets, but one can usually avoid that with the eternal inscrutability of the cat.

      You must be looking forward with great eagerness to the launching of your book in August. That ought to be a whole lot of fun, and I congratulate you!

    • At times I envy the animals. They suffer and die but they do not seem to make a “problem” of it. My cat is usually so busy doing whatever she is doing—like napping—that it probably never enters her head to ask our big questions. But who knows? At any rate, one cannot resist imagining (projecting) what she might think, or what she might say. Thanks, dear Cynthia.

  18. Cynthia, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your pets in such close succession. Painful to lose pets, and I think cats and dogs also grieve in their own way. (At least my observations from previous experiences tell me that….) Well-crafted poem, as always…. and poignant. I hope both you and your remaining kitty are adjusting.

    • I realize that you have had a serious loss, recently, and it does tend to make the vision crystal clear, doesn’t it? Thank you for mentioning craft….i am always working on that and have become pretty committed to working with traditional forms( like the Rondeau.) Language really is a social construct, even as we use it in our own idiosyncratic ways and there is a rich lode from the bards of the past to hint at how the mother tongue works. Thank you for all the browsing and careful commenting you’ve been doing in the archives today, Betty. I hope you know how much it is appreciated.!

      • It’s my pleasure to read your poetry, Cynthia. Now if I can just stay caught up again. (Hoping for more good days when I can sit at the computer. Also am able to do some reading and commenting using cell phone which has been really helpful.) Hope you’re feeling as well as possible these days and enjoying the summertime. 🙂

  19. Now I’m the copycat, Cynthia. You have me in tears over this one. You have captured it exactly—what I feel especially my middle dog is going through, who knew Frida the longest. It’s a bit how I am feeling, as well.

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