Cat and Kettle

Kettle on, I began my chores while the water heated.  I don’t mind winter’s darkness being punctual, but arriving too early is plain inconsiderate.

Before long, my cracked fingers smelled of orange peel and smoke from the wood-fire I built, with kindling so fine and fair it swelled my hands to cut it.  My tea, too, was smoked – black tea once carried with great difficulty across Mongolia, Siberia.

Still in my work clothing, I stood looking out through glass and viscous gloom, as the cat relieved himself.  He inspected his production before covering it with snow, and bounded back to the door, rabbit-like.

I retreated to the lamp-lit heart of the arthritic house to get out of my boots, praise the luxury of soap and hot water, and begin cooking.


Noblesse Oblige

A medallion of liverwurst, a dish of warm milk.  Even these, you hardly wanted in the end.  You looked at the water in your bowl as if it were a stranger to you.  No more did you come to the kitchen at the sound of a can being opened, the clinking of dry food against a metal bowl.

You no longer padded across the tile floor when I returned home from a long day in the kitchen to lick specks of meat, brie, basil oil and rich sauce from the hems of my black pants, no longer bit at the insides of my forearms, pleased to find the savory residue of grill-smoke on my skin.  No more did you come to the top of the driveway to greet my wife and I when we came home from out there, collapsing at our feet, turning your shaggy white belly toward the sky, wriggling in the sun.

Your obligation to nobility became instead a meditation on the blurry line dividing the broken from the unbreakable.

And then there is the oddity of the final judgment placed upon you, and the cold twist that it was I myself who must play the judge: that an injection should guide you into sleep to leave behind all suffering, to leave behind the body of being.  To leave behind the limping legs, the racing heart, the trembling flesh.  To be placed in a cremation chamber with other cats, from other houses in other neighborhoods, altered to shards of bone in less than an hour, along with these others who, like you, also knew as much about how to say goodbye as I do myself, which is to say not very well at all.

Not that it matters what form of goodbye was chosen.  Nothing can change the fact that we left the house together that day, and that I returned alone with an empty carrying case.

So it is now – now that a rift of linear time between two worlds has come between us, now that the swinging door between two dimensions has fallen still again upon its permeable hinges – it is now, my small friend, that I slide back from the table in my creaking chair and swirl the wine in my glass, then push the glass aside and drink straight from the bottle in your honor, smiling at the memory of the white mane that gave you the look of a lion in miniature.

Cat’s Last Days

He was smart, for a cat – something people tirelessly admire in their pets. And in terms of being a cat, there was little his eyes didn’t see. Now he’s a crippled old man, no longer a threat to mice, chipmunks or birds. Now he himself is hunted by time and gravity, threatened by the failure of his own body.

He will not last the winter, sitting to look out the window only a few times more, but mostly resting in a warm dark nook with nose buried in tail. The world was here and he came into it and was part of it. The world was here for him to look at through the windows in his head – passing scenery of all that is earthbound.

Nocturnal traveler beneath star-fall. Celebrator of sun, worshiper of sleep and feasting.  Like the ancient Egyptians, I seem to be obsessed with death and cats.  I suppose, had I lived back then, I would have him mummified.

But in this present time, winter has come empty-handed and the cat will be one of many things it takes. Little heart-motor slowed to stillness, as perfectly natural as feeling you can’t go on and reaching out to grab hold of something. Death is the loudest silence you’ll ever hear: expected by all, and nothing to be done about it.

Wind and Rain

The cat sort of fell onto his side and stretched out against the cool ceramic floor, finding relief as he allowed gravity to press him against the tiles checkered blue and white. I could see his little belly rising and falling through the shaggy fluff of his hair, the motor of his purr shifting into second gear as he recovered from a long day spent seeking shade.

Shirtless and glistening with sweat I went back outside, guzzled a cold beer, and inspected the handiwork of my neatly-stacked woodpile with a critical eye. One of the corners had fallen and I’d had to rebuild it. Satisfied, I took a cold shower, changed the bandage on my wounded finger, sat down at my desk and dreamed of patience, the smell of fresh-cut sage, and books whose pages have all been tenderly dog-eared.

Just then came the rain, out of nowhere in grand voluptuous droplets, meeting the roof with an effervescent thrumming, so hard and so fast that I could not finish my note-writing at the desk, but instead leapt to the open door, not able to bear the thought of missing such weather for anything but the deepest sleep. As if I were witnessing a ceremony the wind sprung up, a Babylonian offering a prayer to an oracle. The wind came over the hill on top of that rain, opening its arms and raising its voice, it sprung up and refreshed me, stirring the cat back to life.

I smelled the breath of the world in that wind, a breath of earthy fragrant smoke, a breath like a thousand hanging gardens whose perfume must have inspired the invention of incense long ago.  A door somewhere inside the house creaked and slammed, and gatherings of leaves like colored scarves were disbanded from beneath the trees, shaken loose, and – like me – sent spinning. They fluttered, twittered, sputtered, and then were driven to the ground, one hundred defeated ballerinas, one hundred overpowered belly-dancers.


1. Man’s quest for meaning: The earth has no unanswered questions.  It leaves that to one of its inhabitants.

2. The over-playing of songs on the radio: If I hear “Jack and Diane” one more time, I’m gonna retch like Gollum with a sinus infection.

3. Feline behavior: As afternoon thrummed silently on, the napping cat followed the sun across the room.

4. Superbowl ads that don’t cut it: 3 million dollars for 30 seconds and that’s what you came up with?

5. A moment of Om: The cello of evergreen boughs passed the music of wind into my hearing.


Many thanks to Poetry Pacific Press for publishing my work: