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I No Gone Cat – the loss of a beloved companion

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Gollum, 2003-2014 – the latest in my series of losses –

Some years ago now, I wrote the following poem and it seems to have become the one that  gets read more than any of my others put together. I’d just lost a young cat to cardiomyopathy, which hit him out of nowhere. Even my vet was caught off-guard. After I buried him, I sat down and wrote. My mother, who is mentioned therein, left on her own journey in November of that same year. We are, indeed, prepared for grief in many different ways.

For some reason, the poem took on a life of its own. It won the monthly IBPC competition for May of 2004, judged by CJ Sage, then was published in LilyLit Review, so it received an audience. People started asking for copies. They still tell me that they’re sending it to friends when a pet passes away. I’m happy that it offers comfort and am hoping it will continue to do so. Sam was a wonderful cat, and this is his story in his own style – with certain additional details that he has chosen to provide.

I No Gone Cat, You Just Not See Me

for Sam, 2000-2004
and for my cat-rescuer friend Laurie

I almost sleeping when he come. He say,
“Cat, why you not look up? Eyes see all
that be, until breath stop. Watch with eyes.”
When I open, he shine like morning, right
here in scary place. Two-leg mother
with me, talk touch, talk touch. I not
try stretch out claws, even after
she hurt my ear and trap me tight
for bring where are other sick ones.

“She love you,” Sun Cat say, “so she
want help you better but not time now
for her do that.” He stand close and then
I sitting beside him with no sore ear,
and ribs not breaking under. Puss on
table lie quiet, black-white like me.
He big fluffy boy with paws curled
and hay in tail. “What barn cat be this?”
I not want new enemy and he mighty
long fur but no move, him. Red earstick
and face shut off. “He be you, name Sam.”

Now I not smartest scratcher in litter box
but I know me and not-me, and him not me.
He stiff as shavings frozen in stall when I
dig for cover pee. He a dead old buddy.
I with friend who glowing all around.
It dark everywhere but Gold Mister jump–
just like that–off table in air. “Hurry,”
he call me. “You not my only today.”

And we outside, where is car and Two-leg
mother. She cry water salt on box in arms
and other two-leg carry cage but it empty.
We watch her go away and I very sad
for I remember she have love me.

“You tell goodbye,” Gold Mister speak
and surprise me. “Where your barn is?”
Before I answer, we there. Stray tom stand
in loft where I like fight him. “No,”
Gold Mister tell me though I not talk this.
“His now. He need home; you have fine
other place. Not worry about him more.”

Tom my enemy once but I no problem
for him now. Farm dogs run, maybe smell
me. They stop in path and grin so I tell
what happen. Hope they figure out.
“You gone away?” young stupid one ask.
Grey-muzzle lick at shadow and understand.
“We meet soon,” I tell her. How I know?

Others not outdoors but we are in house
and not through window, either. “They
allow see you this one day,” Sun Cat
explain, so I say we miss each other.
I make sorry for not always be friendly.
I mean son-of-a-tabby sometimes.

Car in driveway and Gold Mister
show me strange thing. Two-leg mother
dig deep deep deep, toss earth stones roots
and put plastic bag at bottom. It have
paw press against, white like Sam foot.
Wet in there so she shovel throw sawdust too.
“That from pile beside window where I napping
in winter.” Gold Mister not speak. “Why I
leave her? Just young fellow; needed here, me.”

He spin bigger than fireball that fall
from summer. “Job done,” he roar. “You get
her ready for bigger sorrow.” I understand
what he mean. She have little mother-
woman who very sick. She lose me, learn
get strong. But hard not tell her I watching.
She never even hear meow or feel tail brush,
before snow cover not-me. “You visit back
one time,” is all what I allowed. Then he
tell me stare at sun, no see home anymore.

They aster flowers where we hunt today. Old
cat mama near, even Siamese friend find me.
Gold Mister teach me how go back,
be some new kitten when I finish learning.
But this good place and I happy Sam now.

 

(c) 2004 BJ Tate

first published in LilyLit Review 2004; Cleansing (Rising Tide Press) 2005 and Wingflash (Pink Petticoat Press) 2011

 

Three family cats who have joined Sam over the years:  Mini (top), Raven (bottom left), Gimli (bottom right – my daughter’s cat).
Sam’s photo is missing from my files. I suspect it was stored on a CD that later became unreadable. 

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For All the Broken Butterflies

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For All the Broken Butterflies

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. – Pavel Friedman, “The Butterfly”, June 4 1942

You are old now, torn by air and the too-sharp petals of every false flower                                
in the world. Nothing about you will stay any longer than your paths                                       
through the wet grass. Hopeful to the final probe, you prickle your tongue                                    
with sweet beads. Cobalt and ochre dust sifts through the morning’s thorns.

God writes your kind on parchment – haiku of a single hour. Early sun
burns through your dénouement. Foils turn to deltas of dry rivers.
Yet you fear no evil in the vacuum beyond this last garden.
Since you cannot hold memories, I would offer a few for each
of your journeys, my friend.

A woman grips her own innocence – round fruit on an open palm. Raised
hands,  juice between fingers, sticky lure you must never try to drink.
Shake free: clouds and walls, slam of a gate below you.

Taste now Ishmael’s wrist. Lick the salt desert from his skin.
Feel Hagar’s laugh, its bubble like water rising. Her son opens a spring
with his heel, bends toward the wet stones. Tremble your heart
against his pulse, then blow away.

Settle as a leopard on Khadija’s robe, companion to the slow
sandglass of her breath. Your veins are stitching gold and shadow.
Habibti, she murmurs – My own beloved. But you have such a tiny voice,
not made for love. Eyes on your wings open to watch her leave.
Their bruised edges she has chosen not to see.

Rest on a Roman’s plume, bring a kiss from his daughter. He cannot kill
you this time – evader of flags, hooves, spears, fire. You, the stroke
of light beyond an old man’s window. First visitor at a rolled tomb,
even before the women.

Wisp caught on a barb at Terezin. A small boy points and cries,
Mameh … look! He calls you angel, pinned on unforgiving wire.
Not even the bravest of all malachim will fly to this place,
his mother answers.

When death arrives at last, it always belongs to someone else.
So it is best not to remember everything I tell you.

Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2013
~ posted in an exhibit at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch ~

*The community of Terezin was the location of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 12,000 children were kept prisoner during the Holocaust. 90% did not survive. Pavel Friedman, from whose poem I quote at the beginning, was one of those children. He later died at Auschwitz.

The List of the Gone Forever

My father liked to read the obituaries in our local daily paper. He once remarked to me that someday, his name would be there and friends would see it and exclaim, “Oh look – Bert Levy’s dead!” I thought it was quite morbid but he seemed not to mind the idea.

Eventually, his name did show up among those sterile columns and I imagine it was noticed, with appropriate responses. In those days, obituaries could not contain much extraneous information. We weren’t even permitted to name his granddaughter. There was none of the “Memorial Extravaganza” that we see now, with tributes that go on and on for so long, I seldom get through to the finish. I was sad, though, that Natalia couldn’t have been identified, as our family was so small and she was the only member of her generation. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but omission can leave a vacancy down the years that is never remedied. I still have a laminated copy of that obituary, tacked to my wall, and Natalia is still not there.

My mother, in her turn, took to relishing the death notices. She outlived her husband by twenty years, which gave her extra time to enjoy them. I started taking a cursory look, because she wanted to share and my commiseration appeared to please her. With each new loss, her day achieved a certain highlight. Their days had been numbered and ended; hers had not. She would dab at her eyes if needed, in token expression of sorrow. But by then, having endured two strokes, she had clearly downplayed the immediacy and intensity of her grieving. As a younger woman, she reacted to loss with considerable emotion. In more advanced years, her attitude was briefly mournful but resigned. Another one gone; another one committed to a page in memory or a note scrawled on an old photo.

Now I, in my turn, am moving along the timeline allotted to me. And I’ve begun to scan the obituaries, albeit with less eagerness than my 90-year-old mother once felt.  If I should reach that age, it will still take awhile. It’s hard to reconcile my garden plots, not to mention all the physical effort they entail, with that singular plot in Willowbank Cemetery where nobody does much, except to be mowed-over, and my father’s mortal remains are mentioned on the stone but actually went into the ocean somewhere.  At this point, I’d rather plant than be planted. The hour of our departure, nonetheless, is uncertain.

And now I’m starting to understand why obituary-study has become something of an obsession. It’s not the loss in the present we acknowledge, so much as the removal of someone who once presented so many possibilities for us. I’ve begun to recognize former classmates among the growing roster of the departed. And with each new name, I cast back through the shadows until I stand before that person and conjure as much of the face as I can. Sometimes it’s an indistinct blob; sometimes it is clear and detailed. If the individual was a man, I occasionally reflect that he might have been my companion in old age, my lover and spouse, had other elements of our youth been more in sync. “I might have loved you,” I think. “I could have been your soulmate.” A few of these absent friends might actually have been the objects of my youthful adoration. I had crushes, just like anyone else. I lusted in my heart after various impossibilities, and they always chose another girl. I learned to control my imagination and concentrate on being funny and quirky. The hotties – had that word been current back then – in my high school class never included me. I used to believe I was indifferent but still … it would have been nice to shake off ardent pursuers now and then. Hell, I even got turned down by the one guy I worked up the nerve to invite to our annual Sadie Hawkins dance. Everyone went to that dance, except me. You know you’re a loser in the gender game when that happens. I never forgot it, obviously. Dogpatch is long gone and the whole concept of gender equality has liberated women from the waiting process, by which they are the chosen and not the choosers.  And I remember that stupid dance rejection!

Even at the senior prom, my escort – a dear friend – invited me as a substitute for his real girlfriend, who didn’t want to go. I think they’re married now, and older like me, and presumably poring over their own sets of obituaries. I hold no hard feelings in that case, because he was kind and attentive. He gave me a wrist corsage, which made me feel pretty cool. Not pretty, just cool. There was an incident of orange pop spilled down the front of my pink formal, although I did that to myself.  But I digress, since he’s still with us as far as I’m aware.

But the dead call to me from their newsprint rest.  Most are male, since they tend not to make it as far as the women. I speculate on what they must have felt, growing sicker and sicker, loosening their hold on an abbreviated span that might not have brought them all they’d hoped it would. Several from our last school reunion, in the early 1990s, have taken their places on the List of the Gone Forever. I could not have imagined never seeing them again, when we reconnected for those few days of catching-up.  Bruce, Harold, Gary … all the names written in water and washed away. There are more I could contribute. Anyone who was a part of  us all can add their own selections.

A few, however, are  female and some have passed away far too early. Beverly, Lorraine, Joanne, Phyllis … I think of them often too, these companions along the paths of my childhood and adolescence. Both boys and girls join hands and dance around me, here at my desk, crowding the room with their energy. They strut and sing and crack endless jokes and make silly but hilarious comments in class. They drive our long-suffering grade seven teacher, Miss West, to distraction. They assemble yearbooks and plan dances and prepare for earnest debates that we never win. They organize and attend Army Cadet inspections out on the elementary-school grounds, crammed with spectators and fluttery teenage princesses with teased hair and tiny cameras.  We try our best to cheer for our lame-duck sports teams (when your school doesn’t even have a gym, athletic prowess belongs to the kids in the next town). The girls giggle over boys, new rock stars and movie actors. They adore Debbie Reynolds and hate Liz Taylor, twirl in their  full skirts, suffocate in clouds of pink and exhale dime-store perfume, compare the exact placement of the parallel ribs in their bobby sox, and secretly gloat as their bra sizes increase. They flip through 16 Magazines, drive me around when they get their licenses since I’m a year too young for my own, swim at Lumsden dam and sit with me around a fire with marshmallows and stories. I go home smoky and filled with yearning. I can never become what so many of them are without even trying – popular, cute, socially smart. They accept me, though. I guess being a comical geek has its perks after all.

So they recede as their memorial notices appear. The tide brings them to me, suspends them, pulls them away.  A scatter of photographs washes to shore and I squint at their blurriness, before the last the outlines dissolve. I don’t need them, though. I don’t need obituaries or even memories locked in my brain.

I have them all inside me, woven like strands of my DNA. What I am now, these people have made me. They could not have known this, of course, and now they never will. But I know, so maybe that’s enough. And someday, maybe someone will say, “Oh, look – Brenda’s dead!” I hope when that happens, the reader will add, “Now, she was a character. I’ll miss her.”

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