A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:
just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.
She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once
as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
translated by Mary Crow
You weren’t there on my threshold,
nor did I go out looking for you to fill
the hollows forged by nostalgia,
hollows that foretell children or animals
created out of the substance of frustration.
Step by step you arrived through the air,
little tightrope walker on a plank floating
above a pit of wolves,
masked in the radiant tatters of February.
Condensing yourself out of dazzling transparency, you came
trying on other bodies as if they were ghosts inside out,
little anticipations of your electric wrapping—
sea urchin of mist,
globe of inflamed thistledown,
magnet absorbing its fatal food,
feathery gust that spins and stops circling an ember,
near a tremor—.
And already you had appeared in this world,
intact in your immaculate blackness from head to tail,
more marvelous even than the Cheshire cat,
with your portion of life like a red pearl
shining between your teeth.
Cantos a Berenice, II
No estabas en mi umbral
ni yo salí a buscarte para colmar los huecos que fragua la nostalgia
y que presagian niños o animales hechos con la sustancia de la frustración.
Viniste paso a paso por los aires,
pequeña equilibrista en el tablón flotante sobre un foso de lobos
enmascarado por los andrajos radiantes de febrero.
Venías condensándote desde la encandilada transparencia,
probándote otros cuerpos como fantasmas al revés,
como anticipaciones de tu eléctrica envoltura
—el erizo de niebla,
el globo de lustrosos vilanos encendidos,
la piedra imán que absorbe su fatal alimento,
la ráfaga emplumada que gira y se detiene alrededor de un ascua,
en torno de un temblor—.
Y ya habías aparecido en este mundo,
intacta en tu negrura inmaculada desde la cara hasta la cola,
más prodigiosa aún que el gato de Cheshire,
con tu porción de vida como una perla roja brillando entre los dientes.
Olga Orozco, "Songs to Berenice, II / Cantos a Berenice, II," from Engravings Torn from Insomnia. Copyright © 2002 by The Estate of Olga Orozco. Translation copyright © 2002 by Mary Crow. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
The old kitten is replaced by a new baby kitten the old dog by a new pup like a dead Monday by Tuesday. They stroke the new kitten in their laps so that their excess affection won't go sour, so that it will love them in return, like the old one did. But for me they aren't replaceable, not the kitten, not the Monday, not anything else; for me they never die. They only distance themselves, or dwell in me disappearing into the distance: they dwell in my heart and ears, like the Moonlight Sonata dwells in a piano. Gone? No new rain rinses the shower-scent of an old Monday from me, no matter how hard it pours, hisses, streams. Ridiculous, maybe, but it feels good to me, like an old stone in the cemetery, on which a bird might drop its feather. Out there in the City Park and everywhere, where forgetting fattens fresh ice, how many, attentively oblivious, are skating! I understand them, that on slippery ground they alone possess life while living, as long as is possible, and as best as is possible. But for me easy grief's loathsome, and the easy solace of what's easily replaced; if I'm no more, they'll replace me soon. I know, if I'm no more, they'll have someone else, who'll lie in their beds for me, pant, talk, suffer, love. But why shouldn't it be this way? It might need to be this way— why expect the unexpectable, the too hard, the too much?... I understand. And yet, for me, it's irreplaceable and what used to be dear doesn't stop being dear. And it is still too early to love the new kitten. I don't put it in my lap, because the old one's absence still burns there. I know if I'm no more, there'll be someone else.
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Blumenthal and Pleasure Boat Studio. Used by permission of the translator.
The Backyard Mermaid slumps across the birdbath, tired of fighting birds for seeds and lard. She hates those fluffed-up feathery fish imitations, but her hatred of the cat goes fathoms deeper. That beast is always twining about her tail, looking to take a little nip of what it considers a giant fish. Its breath smells of possible friends. She collects every baseball or tennis ball that flies into her domain to throw at the creature, but it advances undeterred, even purring. To add further insult to injury it has a proper name, Furball, stamped on a silver tag on its collar. She didn’t even know she had a name until one day she heard the human explaining to another one, “Oh that’s just the backyard mermaid.” Backyard Mermaid she murmured, as if in prayer. On days when there’s no sprinkler to comb through her curls, no rain pouring in glorious torrents from the gutters, no dew in the grass for her to nuzzle with her nose, not even a mud puddle in the kiddie pool, she wonders how much longer she can bear this life. The front yard thud of the newspaper every morning. Singing songs to the unresponsive push mower in the garage. Wriggling under fence after fence to reach the house four down which has an aquarium in the back window. She wants to get lost in that sad glowing square of blue. Don’t you?
Copyright © 2011 by Matthea Harvey. Poem and image used by permission of the author.
Twas on a lofty vase's side, Where China's gayest art had dyed The azure flowers that blow; Demurest of the tabby kind, The pensive Selima, reclined, Gazed on the lake below. Her conscious tail her joy declared; The fair round face, the snowy beard, The velvet of her paws, Her coat, that with the tortoise vies, Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes, She saw; and purred applause. Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide Two angel forms were seen to glide, The genii of the stream: Their scaly armor's Tyrian hue Through richest purple to the view Betrayed a golden gleam. The hapless nymph with wonder saw: A whisker first and then a claw, With many an ardent wish, She stretched in vain to reach the prize. What female heart can gold despise? What cat's averse to fish? Presumptuous maid! with looks intent Again she stretched, again she bent, Nor knew the gulf between. (Malignant Fate sat by and smiled) The slippery verge her feet beguiled, She tumbled headlong in. Eight times emerging from the flood She mewed to every watery god, Some speedy aid to send. No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred; Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard; A favorite has no friend! From hence, ye beauties, undeceived, Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved, And be with caution bold. Not all that tempts your wandering eyes And heedless hearts, is lawful prize; Nor all that glisters, gold.
This poem is in the public domain.
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t' other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I was n't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)
The gingham dog went "Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate—
I got my news from the Chinese plate!)
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)
This poem is in the public domain.
We love our cat for her self regard is assiduous and bland, for she sits in the small patch of sun on our rug and licks her claws from all angles and it is far superior to "balanced reporting" though, of course, it is also the very same thing.
"Thing," from Next Life, © 2007 by Rae Armantrout, published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Wallace Stevens is beyond fathoming, he is so strange; it is as if he had a morbid secret he would rather perish than disclose . . . —Marrianne Moore to William Carlos Williams Another day, which is usually how they come: A cat at the foot of the bed, noncommittal In its blankness of mind, with the morning light Slowly filling the room, and fragmentary Memories of last night's video and phone calls. It is a feeling of sufficiency, one menaced By the fear of some vague lack, of a simplicity Of self, a self without a soul, the nagging fear Of being someone to whom nothing ever happens. Thus the fantasy of the narrative behind the story, Of the half-concealed life that lies beneath The ordinary one, made up of ordinary mornings More alike in how they feel than what they say. They seem like luxuries of consciousness, Like second thoughts that complicate the time One simply wastes. And why not? Mere being Is supposed to be enough, without the intricate Evasions of a mystery or offstage tragedy. Evenings follow on the afternoons, lingering in The living room and listening to the stereo While Peggy Lee sings "Is That All There Is?" Amid the morning papers and the usual Ghosts keeping you company, but just for a while. The true soul is the one that flickers in the eyes Of an animal, like a cat that lifts its head and yawns And looks at you, and then goes back to sleep.
From Ninety-fifth Street. Copyright © 2009 by John Koethe. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
The old cat was dying in the bushes. Its breaths came slow, slow, and still it looked out over the sweetness of the back lawn, the swaying of tall grass in the hot wind, the way sunlight warmed the garbage can's sparkling lid. It closed its hot eyes, then struggled them open again. + In unison, the dogs explained themselves to the passing freight train. + I don't know where it's gone, her husband said without looking up from his paper while she stood on the back porch shaking the food bowl, calling one of its names. + All this the dying old cat observed from beneath the bushes, its head sideways in the grass, its fur wet where the dog had caught it in its teeth. + And now there's another train, and the dogs are explaining themselves again. + The food makes that sparkling sound in the metal bowl and the cat tries to lift its body from the grass but it's feeling hollowed out, empty and strange as though it's floating just above the tips of grass, as if its paws barely touch the blades' rich points. + Sometimes, the dogs explain themselves to each other, or to passing cars, but mostly they address the trains. We are powerful dogs, they say, but we are also good, while the children on bikes, while the joggers, while the vast, mysterious trains pass them by. + The cat is still drifting above the grass tips, and the sun is so bright the yard sparkles, and wouldn't it be nice to rest there on the garbage can's hot lid, there by the potted plant, there on the car's hood? But it wants the food glittering in the metal bowl, the food that, also, drifts above the grass tips. + And then the cat floats down the tracks, the train's long call a whistling in its head. + And the dogs explain themselves to it, we are good dogs, good dogs, as the cat grows impossibly far away, we are good dogs, as the cat is almost a memory, is barely a taste in the mouth of one of the chorus.
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Prufer. "A Story About Dying" first appeared in The Indiana Review.