A poem about dead cats

I never met the cat Zoe properly because I was taken very ill the one time I stayed at the Wisconsin house – but I promised that I would write something and here it is.

My other dead
but more polite
they come to me
in dreams
scritch at my sleeping brain

I am in an aiport with two
too many bags
and the corridor stretches
and the clock ticks
and they flicker
in the corner
of my eye, running alongside
crossing my path for luck.

and there are stairs
to the underground
the pneumatic railroad
and white condensation crystals
where the tiled ceiling cracked
and the map
the signs
make no sense.
There are too many lines
that go to suburbs I never heard of
but surely I was in New York.
A head
pokes itself out
where the zip of my holdall worked loose
makes an enquiring noise,
rubs neck folds
neck fur on the teeth
against the handle
in luxury.
friend companion

From anxious journeying
a way home.

Sometimes I wake
Fold of the blanket
weight on my side
a tap dripping
the motor of the fridge
two rooms away
the random noise of a sleeping flat
feet on the stairs
car in the yard.

feel like
sound like
something there
almost feel
wish to feel
rasp wet rasp
on skin.
Wishes though
cannot forge dreams.
Half-wake, half-sleep
fragments of sense –
they almost can.

I have so many human dead
Mourned elsewhere.
I set down
My four dead cats
Justine, and Juliet,
Flandry and Brooklyn

Dashing black stud
but small
too elegant
to fight the courtyard toms
He’d talk to me
assume I understood
nibble my ear
I tried to keep him in
heal his torn neck.
And so he broke his neck
escaping gallant to another fight.

Runt, grumpy, hid in things
behind things
hissed more than she purred.
Never forgave
stinging salt water
saving her sight
Yet if I sat quite still
Would come
lie on my feet a while
but never stay
and one day,
dead without complaint

long fur that clogged drains
Fluff and kind
all the way in
her heart and brain
Puzzled, perplexed
she could not understand
sickness or death
and lay weak in my arms
went baffled out of life.

Her sister knew
short-haired Justine had brains enough for two
pulled at my sleeve
to fix her sister
watched me hold her death
then waited for her time
the whole six months
between their deaths
slowly sick
tried to console me
licking at my hands
as she died.
I’d spoken to the vet
arranged a time.
And Justine
my last ever cat
last cat I bear to love
looked up
and squeaked
and died there heavy in my arms with love.

and kittens
blind Brooklyn’s kittens
that yawned
almost opened eyes
then died
the three of them.
Two lived, though, and are well
in other people’s lives.

Abigail’s two
her Emily and Charles
cats that I liked
and Abigail is dead
and cannot mourn.

In the end our cats
like friends
can purr on in our memories.
With memory
they are soap-bubble gone
I set them down in my verse.

Every death teaches us a way to mourn
a mourning only good for that one death
Each life that touches ours, and teaches us,
will end in death, will take away the gifts
that each life brought us, but for memory.
We mourn for what is taken, what remains
sweet aftertaste we would not be without
of bitterness we pay over again,
both when they die and every time we think
that they will die, like every other death
that we are witness to. To know that we will die
is least of all these pains, and not the worst.
Except that with us die our memories
that one day scent and colour fade away
gone from the world, and gone from memory.

About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
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8 Responses to A poem about dead cats

  1. madcatwoman says:

    Ah, Roz! Make me cry and despair of my currently catless state, on a cold January morning. Too good, dammit. Too good. xx
    (I tried to post this comment on Facebook, but it was having a tantrum…)

  2. ffutures says:

    That was beautiful. Thanks for posting.

  3. annafdd says:

    I think one is allowed to be sentimental about cats, she said wiping away a furtive tear. Or two. Or five.

    Strangely enough, I’ve never had any of my cats die in my hands. Most of them I just lost – went out and never came back. One of them died at the vet’s while I was, of all things, at a funeral and unable to rush there. The other died quietly on one of my sweaters in my parents’ house while I was at a WorldCon, apparently of a heart attack in her sleep.

    But the phantom cat – I know that all too well. Thankfully mine go away when the next cat comes along. Only some special cats persist – Topolino is still looking at me quizzically before trying a trick I can praise him from in some corner of my memory.

    Cats mourn too. A lot of the cats in the cattery come there because their owner died or is dying. They are very sad and bewildered cats. They are painfully grateful when you hold them and comfort them. This is probably why they are easy to adopt out.

  4. girfan says:

    Lovely poem. In my case, it’s ferrets, not cats, but each has their own personality and quirks.

  5. paratti says:

    I’m a dog person but this still made me cry.

  6. perlmonger says:

    Thank you.

    They insinuate (or occasionally barge) their way into our hearts, leaving a piece of themselves there for ever, and cat-shaped holes the pain of which is both comforted and highlighted by the next set of needle-sharp teeth, the next flensing tongue, that arrives (expected, sought for, or no) into our lives.

    Fare well, Zoë.
    Fare well, Justine, and Juliet, Flandry and Brooklyn, Brooklyn’s kittens.
    Fare well, Emily and Charles.
    Fare well, Shrimp (who broke her neck in a fall), Zool and Pepper (killed by cars), Bada (who died, like Zoë, in my arms, but at the vet hospital), and Aliss (who died at home, at our feet) (and fare well too PoD: you vanished one day, never to return; I like to think you’re still out there somewhere terrorising everyone around you).

    Fare well.

  7. coraline73 says:

    Thank you for this, I read it, remembering Coco, who died of a stroke after 22 years (more than my lifetime, at the time) and Tigger, who paid the price, in the end, for his unshakable conviction that everything would give way to him. It worked for dogs, and other cats, and foxes, and almost every car in the village.
    And as if he knew, Tybalt came across to sit on my lap, and remind me that he, at least,is still here.
    Thank you again.

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