Three Poems About Cats

From The Door, 2007. Houghton Mifflin (U.S.), McClelland & Stewart (Canada), Virago (U.K.)

Written in honour of Blackie, who lived till 15; posted in honour of Twitter correspondent @marleycatt, who passed away last week.


My sister phones long distance:
Blackie’s been put down.
Incurable illness. Gauntness and suffering.
General heartbreak.
I thought you’d want to bury him,
she says, in tears.
So I wrapped him in red silk
and put him in the freezer.

Oh Blackie, named bluntly
and without artifice by small girls,
black cat leaping from roof to roof
in doll’s bonnet and pinafore,
Oh sly fur-faced idol
who endured worship and mauling,
often without scratching,
Oh yowling moon-
addict, devious foundling,
neurotic astrologer
who predicted disaster
by then creating it,

Oh midnight-coloured
faithful companion of midnight,
Oh pillow hog,
with your breath of raw liver,
where are you now?

Beside the frozen hamburger
and chicken wings; a paradise
for carnivores. Lying in red silk
and state, like Pharoah
in a white metallic temple, or
a thin-boned antarctic
explorer in a gelid parka,
one who didn’t make it; or
(let’s face it) a package
of fish. I hope nobody
en route to dinner
unwraps you by mistake.

What an affront, to be equated
with meat! Cat-like, you hated
being ridiculous. You hungered
for justice, at set hours and in the form
of sliced beef stew
with gravy.
You wanted what
was coming to you.
is, though. Ridiculous. And coming to you.
For us, too.
Justice is what we’ll turn into.
Then there’s mercy.)


We get too sentimental
over dead animals.
We turn maudlin.
But only those with fur,
only those who look like us,
at least a little.

Those with big eyes,
eyes that face front.
Those with smallish noses
or modest beaks.

No one laments a spider.
Nor a crab.
Hookworms rate no wailing.
Fish neither.
Baby seals make the grade,
and dogs, and sometimes owls.
Cats almost always.

Do we think they are like dead children?
Do we think they are a part of us,
the animal soul
stashed somewhere near the heart,
fuzzy and trusting,
and vital and on the prowl,
and brutal towards other forms of life,
and happy most of the time,
and also stupid?

(Why almost always cats? Why do dead cats
call up such ludicrous tears?
Why such deep mourning?
Because we can no longer
see in the dark without them?
Because we’re cold
without their fur? Because we’ve lost
our hidden second skin,
the one we’d change into
when we wanted to have fun,
when we wanted to kill things
without a second thought,
when we wanted to shed the dull grey weight
of being human? )


Crisp scent of white narcissus:
January, and full snow.
So cold the pipes freeze.
The front steps are slick and treacherous;
at night the house crackles.

You came in and out at will,
but this time of year you’d stay indoors,
plump in your undertaker’s fur,
dreaming of sunlight,
dreaming of murdered sparrows,
black cat who’s no longer there.

If only you could find your way
from the river of cold flowers,
the forest of nothing to eat,
back through the ice window,
back through the locked door of air.


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

17 responses to “Three Poems About Cats

  1. My cat Ace, 14 years old, passed away on January 8th. The posting of these poems is perfectly timed. Thank you.

  2. Charly (@Marleycatt's Gobby)

    Thank you. *sniffs*

  3. Jeremy

    Now I’m very sad. Poor cat.

  4. If you have time to read it…

    “Tooter in the Garden on Thanksgiving Weekend”

    I am aware of her awareness
    Her knowledge, her acceptance
    Of finiteness
    Of the sun that penetrates
    Black, white
    And my pink skin.

    She rests her head on cool brown earth
    I, mine, on prickly verdant lawn
    With one hand on her back; we exist
    Together, breathing in the Autumn
    Ingesting the sounds
    Of birds and traffic

    In the unseasonable warmth.
    She looks at me through lazy, longing eyes
    I sigh, and through her eyes imagine
    Taking final sighs, final glances

    Of a cat in a garden
    And I by her side
    Meaningless in history
    Yet everything in hers.


  5. @smapd

    I lost little Perrin last year.
    Thank you.

    Condolences to Charly for Marleycatt.

  6. linda in chicago

    For each cat that you have, do this one thing:
    Choose a time when there is warm light streaming through the window, and you (especially you) and the cat are quiet and still, to the point of noticing (time’s) dust in the air. Then pick up or sit beside your cat, and bury your face in his or her fur. Tell your cat that you will love him/her forever. Then commit to memory the details of that moment in all aspects, returning to it frequently over the subsequent days to cement it in your mind.
    Trust me, this will help you later.

  7. Thank you for these. I lost two cats within the last two years. I don’t think I could have better expressed what it felt like to lose them…the sadness of my loss and the warm but distant comedy of their brief lives.

  8. Lear

    A Ravening

    At the gas bar
    Beside the filthy river
    Where the international bridge trembles
    Between the two countries
    Flannel clouds huddle in front of a thumping wind
    Too cold to be out here pumping gas
    Watching three sooty ravens toss in the air—
    Three shabby Canadians
    Terrorizing a single bald eagle
    Its air force markings flashing white fore and aft
    Sweeping low over the river
    On wings four times the size of theirs—
    A U.S. warplane slowly wheeling and dodging
    Over the America
    Reflected in our windshield
    Along with the exchange rate signs
    And price of gas today
    Gas that comes all the way
    From Kuwait
    At a dollar a gallon cheaper
    Than gas costs in Canada
    Bringing us down here ravening
    To this gas bar
    Where the big birds
    Play their war games by the river.

    ©2011 Robert Lear. (Your January, my January)

  9. Ben, Allie, Jess

    We named our cat Margaret Catwood in honour of you and cat puns. Just thought you should know.
    Sorry about your cat 😦

  10. Marushka

    “It’s just a cat,” my mother always said, until I brought her one and she learned to love silly, furry, purring creatures. “They belong on the floor, not on the furniture, never in the bed,” said Mom, and the cat acquiesced, and even went willingly to her cat-room for the night.
    When Mom died, the cat immediately jumped onto her bed and lay by her side, safe-guarding her spirit until I could — some 10 hours later — finally allow the body-baggers take my mother away.
    Cat love is special. And you don’t have to walk them.

  11. I absolutely loved these poems! When my cat Simone (named after Simone DeBeauvoir) died, my husband and I were inconsolable. She was over 20 years old. I made a photo book and scrap book, including the emails and cards we got when she passed away. I wrote many poems about her when she was alive, but nothing when she died. I especially loved “January”.

  12. spikeymom

    I loved these poems. I have lost both my cats in the last 3 months.
    Both died of the complications of old age, and putting each one down was painful, but the right thing to do.
    The second loss was only 6 days ago. These poems helped me a lot.
    Thank you.

  13. Pingback: Friday link roundup: Fun with Words « windycityvegan

  14. Mary Charest

    Ha! This clears things up.

    For years I thought you loathed cats. I found the piece you did in Wilderness Tips about the cat that was put in a garbage bag and tossed out (title escapes me) hilarious. My professor did not share my sense of humor.

    I find your works eccentric — like me. In fact, I had Ramapo College in NJ come up with a Margaret Atwood author class — because I refused to pick from the dead male writers that were being offered. My professor obliged. Thank God.

    Met Rosemary Sullivan last night — she was speaking at Ramapo, so I dropped in. By the way, I graduated at age 47 (2009). Just a BA, but a start.


  15. Theresa

    I think this woman could have been the crazy cat lady

  16. lynsey

    i loved the rainbow bridge poem, i had my little cat put down yesterday and im just in pieces, she was suffereing from brain tumour and my partner in worse state than iam, iam takin time off as i just cant stop crying, and she had been ill for months but just got worse, and was in my arms when the vet put her to sleep i shall never forget that, i keep thinkin she will come running up to me for a cuddle,x what makes it worse is iam moving home in few weeks where she had a garden that she would fo loved, shame she couldnt hold on till then, RIP Ripley, the wee tortishell that i will always love, my heart is breaking, she was about 11 and i had her for 9years xx

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