October 13, 2012 § Leave a comment


Now that I’ve bent your ear about climate change for a few posts, I’ll give you what you really want, dear readers: an update on the cats.

Lola is happy here now. She likes the clutter and the company. Her fur, which she used to chew off, is growing back, silky and silver-brown-black. Maybe she was allergic to Florida. Maybe she understands that in New York your dress matters more.

She goes where she pleases. She attacks Fitzroy and Mouchette a few times a day. This is not because she’s stressed; she likes to fight. Her eyes dance, joy sparks from her body. She’s like a kid on a Ferris wheel, and afterwards—if I’ve shooed her out of the bedroom because of Mouchette’s unearthly cries—she’ll look at us with a slight hunch to her shoulders acknowledging guilt, but within seconds relaxes and grooms herself meticulously, self-satisfaction evident in each line of her wiry body.

Fitzroy doesn’t mind her attacks. He just bats her away with a long, snowy paw, or looks at her as if she’s nuts (this is when she chooses to attack him in the kitty litter). If he’s feeling frisky, they’ll chase each other around for a while, the big-assed boy knocking over glasses (specs) and glasses (drink), spoons, books, jewelry, pill bottles, piles of unread mail, dental floss. They hang out together, not in that comfortable, let’s-sleep-all-the-time fur-pile that he used to make with Mouchette, but like teenagers hanging around the kitchen at night, wearing their latent rebellion on their whiskers.

Mouchette reacts to Lola’s attacks with far more distress, howling low in her throat to halt Lola’s progress into my room (the disputed territory), then retreating under the bed with banshee wails if Lola’s relentless in her advance over the threshold. If they actually connect—and I rarely see the moment when this happens—a flying ball of clawed fur will crash land just beyond my head (the headboard’s a cat highway), errant paws pricking my scalp and making me shout.

Even so, I don’t believe Mouchette’s position is undiluted I-hate-that-bitch. She perches on the edge of my dresser and peeks around the door for a half an hour at a time, watching Lola. We call it sentry duty but it’s also fascination. The feline females have been known to sleep a few feet from each other on my bed, or sit the same distance apart on the floor having a staring contest. Lola’s eyes are halfway between sage and emerald. Mouchette’s are the yellow-green of a pre-storm sea. You can tell they want to bond, or almost want to.

The real issue is that Lola thinks fighting is play and Mouchette doesn’t. My girl is nonviolent, except in moments of terror. She deals with Fitzroy’s attacks—made when he’s horny, angry at me and displacing it, or terminally bored—by ignoring him as long as possible, then getting rid of him efficiently. She seems to understand his motivations and not take it personally. I don’t think she understands Lola’s. Of course Fitzroy is easier to read. Lola comes out of nowhere like a kamikaze fighter and it’s very easy to mistake this as murderous intent. It may be, but I don’t think so. She’s too happy after a fight, even when she’s been routed. You know people like that. Lovable, perhaps, but a bitch to live with. Luckily for me, if not Mouchette, Lola’s not a human person.

But Mouchette does want a gal pal. And Lola’s like a socially awkward kid who craves friends but keeps losing them by behaving badly. Will the girls work it out? Will Charles and I work it out, smushed together like a peanut butter and pickle sandwich? Stay tuned.

Wild Gratitude

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In everyone of the splintered London streets,

And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke’s
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
“And all conveyancers of letters” for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,

And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth
That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,”
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn’t until I saw my own cat

Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, “a creature of great personal valour,”
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

–Edward Hirsch
audio clip found here


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