Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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And then my cat turned to me and said,
If things are only things, it is because

our relation with them is established
as understanding, in terms of a totality

that gives them meaning. I love that cat
but wondered if her eyes were too cute,

too large like those of sentimental children
come to eat the heart and all that’s in it.

The immediate, she added, cannot be
an object of understanding. And I could not

tell if what she wanted was understanding.
Meow, she said. Was it food she wanted,

or the shuttle of talk, the back and forth
of animal angst that could have been my own?


Make no mistake. I do not trust those
who love cats more than people. Or worse,

those who would ribbon them, dress them up.
What fun is pretending if it succeeds

too well. The cry out there understands
less and less the more I read there. A comfort.

To think a cat feels nothing for the fruits
and chemicals others take for food.

But who am I to say, the sentimentalist
of a skeptical nature. Long ago

I thought this love was impossible
without empathy. But that was me.

My cat is another story. The plural of I
is not we, she says. Or something like that.


And I came to a kitchen at the end
of the world, to the foul odor that says

people sacrifice a lot for the animal.
I called my creature good because

she was not listening. I call her kind
because her needs would feed us, make us

open a thousand cans that smell disgusting.
But we were children once. Without a thought

to ask our parents how their day was.
The invention of kindness was slow, unkind.

The deferential behavior of our pets
a thing that came on us in time, pretending.

Imagine first a life without a beast.
Or a parent who did not feed you, pet you.


When a cat dies, you grieve naturally.
You wait. You buy another. Your photos

shift position on the crowded mantle.
You see things in a patch of sunlight

you know are dreams and so believed.
Loneliness is just that strong sometimes.

If your personal monsters touch you
with soft coats and superstitious behaviors,

it speaks to something too specific and vague
for words. You the god grown mysterious

to these affinities with whom you sleep,
wake, and wake a little more. Always

the promise of a greater light, the dwarf
thunder of calm that shivers in your arms.  

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