Rambling Confessional

May 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

Kitsune, Japanese fox spirit, able to take human form

Cat purring in my ear, rainy day, got some work done on the mystery. I need to write about stained glass windows, immigration, bad sex; and make travel plans to visit my mother. Instead what do I do? Visit the traps in my brain, the ones with the siren songs, get caught as always, have to break the spell and crawl out, muttering, “Why do I keep thinking there’s gold in there…I know it’s only Lucite, empty shells, carnivorous mice…”

I’ve been spending time on the Facebook page for the Woodstock Country School, where I was too briefly a student, expelled for loneliness. I’ve never been around as many interesting people in my life as I was that year, not in Berkeley, not in New York. As adults, they seem no less interesting, though my contact so far is tentative.

Everything is tentative now, postponed, done incrementally. My friend Amelia used to say, “I thought about calling you and then I thought I had.” I’m not quite there yet, but almost. I think about calling, writing, doing something, and it seems like progress. I daydream. Then suddenly I sit down and write 3000 words. The cats applaud. I stop to think.

Extreme shyness led to loneliness led to alcohol led to expulsion and a spring and summer idle at home in New Hampshire where we had recently moved and knew no one, my brother and I. Johnny had been coincidentally expelled the same semester (different school, different offense), and my not-to-pleased mother and stepfather were our only companions. Actually, my stepfather didn’t give a shit, though he pretended he did. He liked the drama. He liked playing “father,”—a very sparsely imagined “father” of his own invention—though not even that much with his own kids.

Johnny and I spent afternoons smoking pot down by the creek, having our first semi-adult conversations. We discussed the parents of course, and cautiously told each other our tales of school. I’d sleep late then lie on the couch reading about witchcraft and ESP, which I tried and tried but could never make work. The high point of the summer was a three-day visit from my friend Jerome (also expelled from Woodstock; it was something in the water), both of us confused about how to relate without the surrounding gaudy circus of the school. Lying side by side on my bed, discussing why it felt weird to kiss, when it hadn’t on the dorm stairs. Actually, I had some ideas about why it felt weird, but was anxious about how and how many of these ideas to introduce.

My mother came in to tell me my stepfather thought we shouldn’t be on the bed, even though we were fully clothed. “We’re talking about important things,” I said.

Woodstock was where the very smart, creative kids without unblemished records went. I wanted to go to Putney, like Mary Kennedy, but didn’t get in. My PSAT scores were never lived up to, partly because I was lazy and crazy, and partly because I loved learning so much, and wanted to say what I wanted to say so badly, that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what my teachers wanted. It wasn’t dinned into me that I should get straight A’s. I think my mother was so convinced of her children’s brilliance that she didn’t care what the schools thought, and she had no idea that admittance to college in 1972 would be ferociously competitive. You’d think my trouble getting into boarding school would have taught both of us a lesson, but we were in difficult periods in my life, my mother and I, she in her new marriage, me plunging into sex, that ‘sufficient unto the day’ was the best we could manage.

Also, regarding grades, there was the shyness thing. I could never go ask a teacher why a grade was low, what I had done wrong. I can remember sitting at my desk thinking about it; envisioning every step I would take; the moment the teacher would notice I wasn’t going out the door but had turned toward him; his questioning face; my searing blush and the pounding in my ears; the hideous vulnerability of asking for help. After rehearsing it a few times, I’d get up and leave.

I’d arrive home angry at my cowardice, refuse to help my mother vacuum because somehow it was all her fault, then hide in my room knowing I was a failure on all counts but maybe it would be okay when I was a famous writer and everyone looked back, amazed that they’d had a genius in their midst and never known it. And my mom would forgive me for being a bad daughter.

Janet Frame wrote about this kind of shyness, although hers was much worse. Her prose is precise and lucid, and I find it unbearably painful. I just read an obit of her, to refresh my memory, and it praised her “lightness of touch” in the autobiography (the middle volume An Angel at My Table was made into the film of the same name by Jane Campion). To me the light was a glare; it was the light they leave on in interrogation rooms; it was the truth that annihilates. But then extreme shyness, to those who have no idea what it’s like, has a mystery and charm—the hidden person, the fear that is so much like desire, that is in fact desire; the possibility of opening the box—that those who have experienced it can only feel baffled by.

“You’re shy,” people used to croon: how cute it was, how modestly girlish! I was like a fawn they could coax to eat tidbits from their hands. I wanted to bite their fingers off. I wanted to proclaim that I was not sweet, nor modest, nor girlish: I was a dirty-minded homicidal multi-sexed monstrosity, and what the fuck is it to you, anyway, asshole? You looking at me?

Well, of course I drank. Crème de menthe, watching TV in the late afternoon/evening, staining my teeth green. And the rest of the time impersonating a pretty girl who liked wine and sleeping with boys, who intimidated them with her sexual forthrightness, and went home with their confessions of feeling—I don’t mean about me—like smooth stones striped with minerals. Boys showed their souls during sex in those days. I don’t know if they do now.

And if I woke up and the day promised solitude, I would into slip into my daytime skin as if into that of a kitsune, read poetry, wander outside into the light or clouds or wind, staring at the lovely edges of things. There was so much me, a superabundance I never communicated and which now is now a fossil in the museum I visit when I write to you, dear readers.

Woodstock is a key to that whole period because I was there so briefly, left so unwillingly. It was what I was and what I wasn’t: the brilliant (in brains or personality) talkative kids were the siblings who didn’t know me, the kind of person I could be if I wasn’t impaired. I soaked them up. “You’re always watching,” Jerome told me.

I couldn’t tell him what I saw, how glorious he was with his dirty blond hair and sardonic grin, how glorious they all were, 16 year old barefoot goddesses and boys like sidekick charmers in Shakespeare.

I want to write about all of it, and my 20s, and the last 12 years. The missed opportunities, the mistakes and losses—in books, you know, failures and disasters are the interesting parts. I’ve been a writer for decades. Perhaps it’s time to actually become a book, and care only about what’s new, striking, active; what’s changed or revealed. Not what feels good or hurts. Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Life is kicking me in that direction with big boots.

But listen to Robert Creeley, whose birthday was yesterday, who’s dead now and was great and saw mercilessly.

Age

Most explicit–
the sense of trap

as a narrowing
cone one’s got

stuck into and
any movement

forward simply
wedges once more–

but where
or quite when,

even with whom,
since now there is no one

quite with you–Quite? Quiet?
English expression: Quait?

Language of singular
impedance? A dance? An

involuntary gesture to
others not there? What’s

wrong here? How
reach out to the

other side all
others live on as

now you see the
two doctors, behind

you, in mind’s eye,
probe into your anus,

or ass, or bottom,
behind you, the roto-

rooter-like device
sees all up, concludes

“like a worn-out inner tube,”
“old,” prose prolapsed, person’s

problems won’t do, must
cut into, cut out . . .

The world is a round but
diminishing ball, a spherical

ice cube, a dusty
joke, a fading,

faint echo of its
former self but remembers,

sometimes, its past, sees
friends, places, reflections,

talks to itself in a fond,
judgemental murmur,

alone at last.
I stood so close

to you I could have
reached out and

touched you just
as you turned

over and began to
snore not unattractively,

no, never less than
attractively, my love,

my love–but in this
curiously glowing dark, this

finite emptiness, you, you, you
are crucial, hear the

whimpering back of
the talk, the approaching

fears when I may
cease to be me, all

lost or rather lumped
here in a retrograded,

dislocating, imploding
self, a uselessness

talks, even if finally to no one,
talks and talks.

Robert Creeley

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Grimm and Grimmer

May 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Check out My new editing site

On this glorious spring day, I looked at my blog stats and saw that the most common search words lately have been: personal, suicide, writing and Sylvia Plath. I should probably start an anonymous blog for depressives so I can give this audience what they long for: dark and more dark, funny dark, scary dark, sexy dark, down into the underworld where fat little devils wait with forks and knives dark. Because I know the rest of you want descriptions of nights out and cat antics and stories that startle but don’t make you worry about my mental health, and to see if I’ve mentioned you lately.

I just came from a brunch meeting with Lisa and Laura about the possible fairy tale event at the Cathedral to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. What we said is top secret but I can tell you my favorite Grimm’s tale: Hansel and Gretel. I feel a great desire to write my own version of the story, which wouldn’t change the plot—the plot is perfect—or the characters, also perfect. I would just play around the edges, embroider, embellish, or simply write it down as I remember it and imagine that I’m making up this story that will frighten and embolden children for hundreds of years, and prime their consciousness for three key ideas: a) siblings should stick together, b) sugar is deadly and c) parents can be forgiven much if the unemployment rate is through the roof due to the machinations of the wealthy.

*

My cat Fitzroy is unhappy. I have fed him, brushed him, cuddled him, scolded him. None of it changes his belligerant distress, his meows and meows that make me feel guilty for writing instead of thinking up new games with string.

It occurs to me that the Mouchette has not shown her face since I got home, so it’s possible he murdered her and is now feeling bad about it, wanting me to bring her back to life. She wouldn’t do that to him. She’d make a good Gretel. He’d do better in another fairy tale, the lazy brother who doesn’t win the princess, who sets off on his quest and immediately starts complaining about how unfair everything is.

I really thought by now I’d be a witch with my own mossy cottage. Not a child-eating witch, but a woman with power in her hands, trees that know her name and a few humble but tidy rooms without landlord or electric bill.

My life feels as thin as tissue. Fear does that—takes away the solidity of things. But there’s no escape from fear. I used to think there was. I thought I’d beat it; grow strong and wise, etc. But it’s here for good and I have to accept the stones it throws in my path: the longing to give up, escape, forget, not love anyone anymore.

Fitzroy is staring at me now. It’s 4:48. Not even the elderly in Florida eat dinner this early. But I’m going to feed him anyway and then go out and buy some lemon ice cream, a bottle of vodka or a dirty novel. Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody.

Ice cream is by far the most likely, by the way. Vodka’s no fun alone and I can write my own dirty novels. Reading fairy tales has given me lots of ideas.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas . . .

Now, far from women’s arms
and memory of women, in our father’s hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln–

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.

Louise Glück

Phil & The Brothers Grimm

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Too many good dinners and good company in the last several days; I’m way behind on work. It’s easy to feel that life is not so bad after a fine meal in Manhattan in the springtime, especially when there are people in the world like Philip Levine, our Poet Laureate whom I heard last night before having the best meal of 2012 so far, at a restaurant called Aldea on 17th Street.

Levine’s poems are wonderful read aloud. They’re conversational, but with the introspective richness that doesn’t require drama or any special voice, merely the slow, careful attention to the words all poems demand. Various people, including Jeffrey Eugenides, read his work. Phil (when someone asked what the proper title for Poet Laureate is, he called out from the audience, “Phil!”) read a poem by Alun Lewis, a young Welsh poet killed in WWII. In the poem he foretells his death; he speaks the poem in the voice of his wife at home. The last stanza goes like this:

But oh! the drag and dullness of my Self;
The turning seasons wither in my head;
All this slowness, all this hardness,
The nearness that is waiting in my bed,
The gradual self-effacement of the dead.

You can read the whole poem here

I’m supposed to go out again tonight to a poetry event, The PSA awards, which is good since my thoughts are running to staying home and setting the cat on fire. I’ve spent the day working on mundane editorial matters and indulging in my usual fantasies of escape, the most healthy of which is to disappear into the country for several years—some place memory can’t find—with nobody knowing where I am and not missing me too much. Of course in this fantasy I’m younger and stronger, barely aware of what Katherine Anne Porter called “Old Mortality”—because it is old, it’s been around forever, and you know it best when you’re old too, or getting there; because it is sly like certain old people who play feeble, frail, deaf, but are crafty and will steal your wallet or your favorite child.

OK, the theft of the child is more like something from a fairytale—those who steal children in this world tend to be young or youngish. The old fairies will take children though, because they live forever and the delight of a mortal creature only a few years out of nonbeing is like what we feel when we eat the first baby lettuce leaves of summer, wondering how it is that an action as ordinary as eating can be a sacrament, can make you want to reach across the table and touch the hand of the old love, the dear friend.

This is what we hold up as the deeply human. But what about the fairies who have needs too, who long to scoop the children like peas out of the pods of their strollers, take them to the sea-green and shadowed land; keep them, eternal hostages, for their beauty that doesn’t change but loses its freshness anyway? I’ve not been given the option of what species to belong to, but my soul feels like a shriveled fairy, full of weird powers but without a soul, if you can decode that image. Or even if you can’t.

I’ve wandered into fairy tales because that’s something coming up at work next week. I have to write a grant for a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. And have you ever had work as sweet as that—other than writing, painting, music—I mean work? Fairies are good at acquiring things for free, which is one way of describing a grant. I’ll have to ask their help. And ask, while I’m at it: how do you put a woman to sleep for 100 years? Make a man ride a horse that never stops? Bring back the dead as if they were only behind a curtain? Tell me, please. The world I live in is too real by far.

This was one of the poems of Levine’s that was read last night, one of his famous ones.

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Philip Levine

Party Girl

May 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

View from the ladies room, The Standard Hotel

I went to PEN’s 90th birthday party last night with my friend Kewulay. I had gotten the tickets (free) on a whim, knowing that it was unlikely I’d know anyone there. It seemed like it might be fun to just look at the crowd, to see what kind of party PEN threw for its impecunious members—the big gala at the beginning of the festival cost $1,000 a plate.

First we had dinner at one of those places where the cheese plate consists of two thumbnail-size pieces of cheese with triangles of toast (“We don’t have bread,” the waiter said with a straight face), and Kewuley pleased me by laughing several times when I recited my favorite break-up poem from last summer’s heart-skewered poetry-writing marathon. Then we drove to the Standard hotel on Greenwich Street, which you have probably never heard of since it wasn’t there five minutes ago. The party was held in the bar on the 18th floor. It’s a reasonably elegant and comfortable place: the bar in the middle, in the round, with low vanilla-colored couches and chairs scattered by the windows.

The windows! Floor to ceiling, on three sides. The views are astonishing, from the river to the Empire State Building. I stood gaping in amazement as pretty young women in micro gowns vaguely resembling Greek tunics walked around with trays of champagne. That was really all there was to the party. Yes, Salman Rushdie was present, looking like an aging devil in a cheap suit; and lots of sweet-faced, mostly older folk, the less-thans of the literary crowd and all the more charming for that; and a big cake; and there were glossy black-walled bathrooms the size of closets with the same floor to ceiling windows so that if a jet happened to be flying at the building, you’d see it coming while you were pulling up your pants. One of the speakers told us that we were directly above the jail Lowell mentions in his famous poem Memories of West Street and Lepke (below). The point was that this territory has serious literary chops, as well as having once been not too salubrious a neighborhood.

We lounged on a couch where we could see the sparkly city, not the readers. It didn’t matter: I heard bits and pieces, mostly not of interest, although the last stanza of Auden’s great poem on the death of Yeats made me emotional, as it always does. It also made me want to hear it read by someone who knows how to read that kind of grand verse.

After the readings and the cake, we retired to an empty corner and Kewulay talked about driving through Sierra Leone in ’98, going to see what had become of his family’s village (burned down), risking death at every checkpoint but not feeling any fear. “I wasn’t brave,” he said. “You understand? It wasn’t bravery. I just wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why.”
“It was because you weren’t afraid that they didn’t kill you,” I said.
“Yes, that’s right. But in my village—the day after I left the village, the soldiers came for me. But I was gone. I believe I was supposed to live because I’m the one who can help change things.”

Earlier in the conversation, he said, “We need war so that we appreciate peace.” Perhaps. Just hearing about war makes me appreciate peace a whole lot. And I think, whether we need it or not, war will always be with us. The one thing in the readings I disagreed with strongly was a quote from John Steinbeck’s Nobel speech, “I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”

I believe that we can change things and must try. But do I believe in the perfectibility of man, or only that those who care or can have to keep working just to keep the balance? Do I think we are any different, in our ratio of good to evil, than we were 1,000 or 5,000 years ago? There’s no way to know, but I kind of doubt it. And I don’t think writers need to sign on to perfectability to have dedication and membership in literature. I’m not a Steinbeck or Auden, not a crusader or one of the greats, not likely to make much difference in the world, but I am a writer. I write for people like me, the people I know, imperfect and only fitfully improving (and some are getting worse). I write to celebrate, mourn and amuse, and mostly because it gives me joy, satisfaction or in the darkest times, a handhold on sanity. “The Heart asks Pleasure—first—/and then—Excuse from pain—/ and then— those little Anodynes/ that deaden suffering—

Emily knew pretty much everything about the heart. Robert Lowell knew a lot too, and got out more often.

Memories of West Street and Lepke

Only teaching on Tuesdays, book-worming
in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning,
I hog a whole house on Boston’s
“hardly passionate Marlborough Street,”
where even the man
scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,
has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,
and is “a young Republican.”
I have a nine months’ daughter,
young enough to be my granddaughter.
Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.

These are the tranquilized Fifties,
and I am forty. Ought I to regret my seedtime?
I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.O.,
and made my manic statement,
telling off the state and president, and then
sat waiting sentence in the bull pen
beside a negro boy with curlicues
of marijuana in his hair.

Given a year,
I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short
enclosure like my school soccer court,
and saw the Hudson River once a day
through sooty clothesline entanglements
and bleaching khaki tenements.
Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz,
a jaundice-yellow (“it’s really tan”)
and fly-weight pacifist,
so vegetarian,
he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen fruit.
He tried to convert Bioff and Brown,
the Hollywood pimps, to his diet.
Hairy, muscular, suburban,
wearing chocolate double-breasted suits,
they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.

I was so out of things, I’d never heard
of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Are you a C.O.?” I asked a fellow jailbird.
“No,” he answered, “I’m a J.W.”
He taught me the “hospital tuck,”
and pointed out the T-shirted back
of Murder Incorporated’s Czar Lepke,
there piling towels on a rack,
or dawdling off to his little segregated cell full
of things forbidden to the common man:
a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American
flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm.
Flabby, bald, lobotomized,
he drifted in a sheepish calm,
where no agonizing reappraisal
jarred his concentration on the electric chair
hanging like an oasis in his air
of lost connections. . . .

Robert Lowell

Drinking With Cats

May 5, 2012 § 4 Comments


It’s difficult drinking with cats. They won’t do it willingly, no matter how you disguise it, unlike dogs, happy to guzzle beer till they pass out like the freshmen boys they so resemble. You cannot offer a cat a tuna martini. You have to inject the spirit directly into a vein (after having caught the ferocious feline and swaddled it in a towel), and then, if you’re not careful, it’s sober one minute, blotto the next.

I’ve discovered from patient experimentation the amount equivalent to a middle-aged female human’s first drink—a few drops, what you’d wipe off your mouth with a napkin—and to wait a civilized 45 minutes before doing it again. And they, in turn, have learned to stay on the bed with me, our version of the 70’s sunken conversation pit, and gaze at me enthralled as I repeat iconic stories from my youth. Stories that sound so paltry compared with a fatherless brown boy escaping Vietnam in ’75, a Croatian 17-year-old tricked into prostitution and held captive until the day she finds a cell phone and texts Nicolas Kristoff, a young American raised Mormon, now recovering in Las Vegas. But the cats are not aware of my inadequacies as an entertainer.

Drunken cats. They know better than to show it. They let their eyes close slowly in that dreamy way they’ve perfected; they don’t try to go anywhere; and if they must get up, and reveal some loss in coordination, anyone could blame it on my habit of strewing vacuum cleaner parts and piles of magazines I can’t figure out which credit card is automatically re-subscribing me to on the designated clear areas of the floor. They knock over my coffee and glasses and the lamp frequently, even when they’re not drunk, so it’s all just more of the same. Sometimes I make them listen to Linda Ronstadt.

Drinking with cats means the cats are even less present, leaving me no choice but to ruminate (in a winey way) on why I choose not to feel my feelings—that phrase that always reminds me of palpating the vaginal folds of an unwilling old lady. But why must I live a life where my feelings are often so unpleasant I have to lob them into the future, where they wait for me with 10 friends and a fuck-you attitude? I’d like to conduct a survey of chronic depressives asking this question. Why? What is the meaning, the reason? I think the answers would be illuminating, if not quite on the level of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.

Drinking with cats. You can only do it properly when they’re dead. You drain them of their blood (a steel table with a trench around the perimeter is good for this), and replace it with a dollop of scotch and a generous pour of a yeasty champagne. The scotch lends them a peaty warmth, the champagne the delirious fizz of animation. This lasts about an hour, but during that hour they sing, tell filthy jokes, and talk mysteriously of the sentient shadows on the other side—the color of velvet they always say, as if velvet has a color—then, alas, the party is over.

Yes, they speak. They sound like nails hammered into rain.

The rare cat will rise as a vampire after death, and be a priceless companion. She, too, can speak, although she won’t. She is immortal, and as such gives your own mortality another kick in the ass, making every day of your life seem like more of the same: never quick or clever enough, overtaken by the merciless future…but she is so beautiful! She walks like a queen, and her eyes…

The vampire cat feeds off small rodents, which she enthralls with her uncanny powers, ensuring the victims are too weak to totter more than the few steps from their holes to where she patiently waits, curled atop the slick pages of the newest Elle. Vampire cats never excrete, nor do they mew, meow or yowl; they look out north-facing windows with the serenity of a jade Buddha; and though they require a dark closet in the sunlit hours, if you get in there with them you can hold their chilly corpses in your lap and think about what it will be like when everyone you love is dead.

And if everyone you don’t love is not dead, the vampire cat will take care of it. They don’t care for human blood but they can open an artery, not to mention charm their way into any household and make all the residents think the cat belongs there. I’ve heard of cases where the master of the house lies dead—some intruder, some murderer—but the wife is most upset by the disappearance of this cat, whom she’d never laid eyes on before yesterday but with whom she feels already such kinship, such longing, a soul bond…

I learned most of this on the Internet, in a chat room behind a firewall behind an international auto-parts auction site. I’ve only met a vampire cat once, at a home I was taken to blindfold, after being driven in circles for a dizzying 30 minutes. The cat was smoke-silver, long-haired, with midnight eyes. She weighed 22 pounds. She stared at me, kneaded me with her great paws, claws pricking like somebody else’s conscience, and put dreams in my head.

They’re not easy dreams. The charming man I met last night was killed by barricudas in a flooded estuary in White Plains. My deceased mother-in-law was found wandering in a torn dressing gown through the corridors of an unsafe Oakland hotel. My best friend lost her five-year-old daughter to a self-mutilating disease.

It helps to drink. The cats watch me. I don’t drink too much, just enough to help me adjust.

To what, you say? To what to you adjust? Not having an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, curving to follow the natural line of the rock, and surrounded by exotic greenery? Not having a valet with white gloves who folds up like a collapsible tripod when not needed? Not having money grow under the bed, or appear in the clean laundry, or be diverted from others’ bank accounts in small, regular amounts? Not having love, a condition for which I am already too fragile.
.
Curse of the Cat Woman

It sometimes happens
that the woman you meet and fall in love with
is of that strange Transylvanian people
with an affinity for cats.

You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show,
on an ordinary date, being attracted
by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk,
and afterward of course you take her in your arms,
and she turns into a black panther
and bites you to death.

Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time,
and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency:
that she daren’t hug a man
unless she wants to risk clawing him up.

This puts you both in a difficult position,
panting lovers who are prevented from touching
not by bars but by circumstance:
you have terrible fights and say cruel things,
for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper.

One night you are walking down a dark street
and hear the padpad of a panther following you,
but when you turn around there are only shadows,
or perhaps one shadow too many

You approach, calling, “Who’s there?”
and it leaps on you.
Luckily you have brought along your sword,
and you stab it to death.

And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love,
her breast impaled on your sword,
her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you
but couldn’t help her tendency.

So death released her from the curse at last,
and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face
that in spite of a life the devil owned,
love had won, and heaven pardoned her.

Edward Field

Where Am I?

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