The Cat Psychiatrist

November 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hope in a Prison of Despair

Hope in a Prison of Despair, by Evelyn De Morgan (30 August 1855-2 May 1919), British

As I have told you before, and probably will again next week and the week after until we both expire of collegial boredom, my cat refuses to let me sink into gloom. I use that phrase because merely being depressed—but still active—seems to go by him; and lying in bed reading is okay, too (though he prefers active). But lying in bed sunk in gloom is not permitted. He meows, bites, sticks his wet nose in my face.

Is this what I should have done with my father all those years ago? Not tiptoed around his bad moods…not believed adult inner life was sacrosanct, demanding of awe and dread? Should I have just nudged him with my wet nose?

Oh yeah, he wouldn’t have reacted by saying (fondly) “….okay, okay, ya dumb cat, for chrissakes, I’ll get up.” He would have snarled and said something hurtful. I only do that when Fitzroy is being Felix Ungerish neurotic. When I’m sunk in gloom, I’m touched by his distress. And who can say it’s better to sink in gloom than write this blog post, which is fairly useless but doesn’t upset the cat?

I always want to explore the gloom for reasons that once made sense. The metaphors of ‘shining light on’ or ‘cleaning out’ are timeless and seemingly experience-tested, at least until you try them 8 million times. Now it’s all about keeping busy, but the obvious things—doing the work I’m paid for, calling friends—are impossibly distant from the state of gloom. This isn’t. This is the coffee bar in the mental hospital, the one that exists nowhere but in my mind.

My Ideal Mental Hospital: on one side are sunny gardens, mountain views, hot springs, and a library of great poetic and comic works: books, movies and TV shows. Masseurs, yoga teachers and therapists are on call, and at the end of the session, they pay you. Grandmothers (certified grandmothers, older, wider and shorter than all the patients) prepare simple meals with lots of fresh vegetables, meat raised with kindness, home-baked bread and pie. All the bedrooms have big windows and the breeze is warm or cool, scented with the Pacific Ocean, eucalyptus, mountain laurel, autumn leaves or just-mown grass.

On the other side, it’s like a college or boarding school common room, with a stained carpet, ridiculous chairs, and people in pajamas day and night. The coffee is not bad but slopped into ugly gray plastic cups. Sunk in Gloom plays her greatest hits on the jukebox, which eats quarters and often skips or stops in the middle of the song. There’s only one phone and when it rings, it’s always a guy with a sexy voice asking for some girl named Marcy.
On The Meeting Of García Lorca And Hart Crane

Brooklyn, 1929. Of course Crane’s
been drinking and has no idea who
this curious Andalusian is, unable
even to speak the language of poetry.
The young man who brought them
together knows both Spanish and English,
but he has a headache from jumping
back and forth from one language
to another. For a moment’s relief
he goes to the window to look
down on the East River, darkening
below as the early light comes on.
Something flashes across his sight,
a double vision of such horror
he has to slap both his hands across
his mouth to keep from screaming.
Let’s not be frivolous, let’s
not pretend the two poets gave
each other wisdom or love or
even a good time, let’s not
invent a dialogue of such eloquence
that even the ants in your own
house won’t forget it. The two
greatest poetic geniuses alive
meet, and what happens? A vision
comes to an ordinary man staring
at a filthy river. Have you ever
had a vision? Have you ever shaken
your head to pieces and jerked back
at the image of your young son
falling through open space, not
from the stern of a ship bound
from Vera Cruz to New York but from
the roof of the building he works on?
Have you risen from bed to pace
until dawn to beg a merciless God
to take these pictures away? Oh, yes,
let’s bless the imagination. It gives
us the myths we live by. Let’s bless
the visionary power of the human—
the only animal that’s got it—,
bless the exact image of your father
dead and mine dead, bless the images
that stalk the corners of our sight
and will not let go. The young man
was my cousin, Arthur Lieberman,
then a language student at Columbia,
who told me all this before he died
quietly in his sleep in 1983
in a hotel in Perugia. A good man,
Arthur, he survived graduate school,
later came home to Detroit and sold
pianos right through the Depression.
He loaned my brother a used one
to compose his hideous songs on,
which Arthur thought were genius.
What an imagination Arthur had!

–Philip Levine

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§ One Response to The Cat Psychiatrist

  • Sunk In Gloom’s Greatest Hits Jukebox:

    One For My Baby and One More For the Road – Frank Sinatra
    There Stands the Glass… (It’s my first one today) Webb Pierce
    It Never Entered My Mind – Linda Ronstadt (also Miles Davis’ version)
    Heartbreak Hotel- Elvis Presley
    The End of a Love Affair – Chris Connor
    Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain – Willie Nelson

    Dear Readers: Please add your favorite songs of gloom to the jukebox list.

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