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.