The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names,
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular name.
From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
When fiber-optic, sky blue hair became the fashion, my father began the monthly ritual of shaving his head. It was August, and we were still living in the Projects without a refrigerator. The sound of my mother fluttering through the rosaries in another room reminded me of the flies I'd learned to trap in mid- flight and bring to my ear. "Vecchio finally died," my father said, bending to lace his old boots. "You want to come help me?" My grandparents lived in a green-shingled house on the last street before the Jones & Laughlin coke furnaces, the Baltimore & Ohio switching yard, and the sliding banks of the Monongahela. The night was skunk-dark. The spade waited off to the side. Before I could see it, I could smell the box on the porch. We walked down the tight alley between the houses to get to the back yard where fireflies pushed through the heat like slow aircraft and tomato plants hung bandaged to iron poles. My father tore and chewed a creamy yellow flower from the garden. After a few minutes of digging, he said, "Throw him in." I lifted the cardboard box above my head, so I could watch the old white cat tumble down, a quarter moon in the pit of the sky.
From Autobiography of So-and-So: Poems in Prose by Maurice Kilwein Guevara, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose. © 2001 by Maurice Kilwein Guevara. Used with permission. All rights reserved.