Already I think of her mortality,
this kitten we have rescued
from the silence of your living room.
She was your favorite; because of this,
I have sewn your ghost to her
with thread from the salvaged scraps
of the pillowcase I refuse to wash.
Already I think of her mortality,
this kitten we have rescued
from the silence of your living room.
She was your favorite; because of this,
I have sewn your ghost to her
with thread from the salvaged scraps
of the pillowcase I refuse to wash.
It’s a collection of poems inspired by the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses interspersed with poems about a post-apocalyptic world where change is the only hope for survival. I wrote almost all the poems while on the Aeolian Isles, thanks to the Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary. The islands are a volcanic archipelago said to be the home of the god of the winds, and you can see volcanoes erupting there. The soil is rich and all around you there are plants growing, bugs crawling, fish swimming, birds swooping – it was just the right place to go to think about what change is, and what being is.
Melopoesie is music and poetry together, but the idea is that rather than being poetry stuck on top of music or vice versa, the two are generated in a collaborative way so that they form something new in which the poetry and music are in conversation with one another or intrinsically bound.
It started with looking for more provocative ways to perform or to present poetry to an audience rather than standing in front of them with a piece of paper in my hand reading out words. That can be a wonderful way to perform and a good poem read well by a talented poet can keep any audience’s attention, but poetry can be a difficult thing to take in when you’re hearing it for the first time in a room full of folks. Sometimes having something with it – film, music, pictures, et cetera, can really help people to focus and to understand what you’re on about.
Also I’ve met a lot of people who say they have trouble understanding poetry. I think a lot of people got frightened off of poetry in school, or are under the mistaken impression that it’s beyond them. Or some people think all poetry should be instantly accessible and easy – I don’t think that this was necessarily the case in the past, and is perhaps a sad reflection on our current approach to the unknown. My poetry over the years has been described as ‘obscure’, ‘impressionistic’, ‘imagistic’, ‘abstract’, and whether or not I agree it’s often been met with frustration. So I try to encourage people to let go of their fears and be willing to engage with the poem – to use their imaginations and intellects to inhabit the metaphorical spaces rather than to feel left out. Further to this, I’ve often found that the process of collaboration both helps to clarify my own understanding (and often actual wordings and line breaks) of the poems, and also provides another way in for people who find the poem on its own elusive.
I think so, though it’s hard to say how much of that has to do with the place I’m in and how much has to do with getting older. For a number of years I tried to write a poem a day, which helped me work through some problems I was having with getting my ideas out the way I wanted and getting my lines to match up with the rhythms in my head. How much Britain has influenced me, and how my work might have been different had I stayed in America, is hard to quantify. My sense of what I’m trying to convey and the means by which to do that seems clearer, and I wonder if being outside of the place where one grew up helps one get perspective on one’s self and one’s origins in a useful way.
I was at a lecture once where the claim was made that American poetry tends to separate ‘nature’ and ‘the city’ whereas the two are more often interlinked in British poetry. I’m not sure whether this is true, but I suppose my own collection contains a mixture of these two notions.
The best thing is my partner and his family – he’s Scottish! Scotland is a magnificent country, rich with natural and hewn beauty, and its people are warm, funny and wise. The worst thing about it for me is the weather, the lack of sunshine and seasons. Where I grew up we had long, hot summers, very distinct springs and autumns and cold, snowy winters. I do love the long summer days in Edinburgh but I miss the sun the rest of the year.
Yes! I wish I knew more. I like them.
People I collaborate with and their work, other art forms and strange, frightening, gorgeous moments that happen every day that feel like poems.
Two collections – one about war (and peace) and one about nature and identity.
I try to avoid writing about stuff that is so personal it isn’t relevant to other people. The personal can be universal but it has to be handled very deftly to be so.
I’m the Literary Officer at the Traverse Theatre, Scotland’s New Writing Theatre www.traverse.co.uk. I make music and watch movies and go for walks with my partner and play with our cat, Tibor.
Confession: I couldn’t think of what questions to ask myself so in the spirit of collaboration I asked for help from James Iremonger, a very talented musician and composer
She’s in her wheelchair
when we first see her,
her frame too frail to support
a precipitous weight gain.
With her back to us,
she looks through a picture window,
unmoving as we enter,
our steps cautious, voices low.
It’s my boyfriend and I,
my dad and stepmother.
Our greetings rise in pitch
and my grandmother turns,
smiles: “Oh, well look at this.”
I hug her sloped shoulders,
place a kiss on her cool cheek;
others do their version.
We chat about the usual—
where we’re living these days,
folks we’ve seen, “those darn
Mariners, just can’t catch
a break.” I circle the dim room,
pausing to handle and remark
on the odds and ends
that line every available surface—
The sock monkey, Beanie Babies,
plastic Kewpie dolls; model cars
and a tiny 747, testament
to my grandmother’s Boeing days.
And the bulletin boards!
Old news clippings,
photos of first husband
and every child and grandchild,
Reno and Maui trips
with her last love, long dead.
“I don’t know how I wound up
with all this junk,” she says,
her bright eyes a giveaway
(she knows, loves it).
Then, with conversation steering
to a close, comes a story
Of a pregnant cat my grandmother
would watch for hours at a time
some days, sit at her window
and just watch this cat
as it slunk around the bushes
across the street. Until one day
last week when she stopped appearing—
“I’m just sure she went into those
bushes to have her kittens,
see. And I’m worried about her,
because you know I just haven’t
seen her and I’m afraid some-
thing might have happened.
I tell you I’ve been at that window
every day just waiting for her.”
We say our goodbyes shortly after.
From the parking lot, I glance
up to find my grandmother back
at her window, waiting anxiously
for that cat of hers to reemerge
a mother, as she, Grandma,
is a mother, as she will always
be a mother, even in dying.
I looked twice before I realized it was a cat. Dumped and left for dead, at first he looked to me as if he might have been a raccoon. He was curled up in the leaves next to a walking trail, far from any house. His face was scarred and scabbed.
“This cat,” I thought, “has to be saved.”
A woman walked by and, noticing that I was extremely upset, asked what was wrong. Miraculously, her next words were, “I rescue cats. I’ll jog home and get a trap.”
She returned 40 minutes later with a trap and some bait (tuna fish). It was obvious by the way this cat walked into the trap that he was young, had strength to lick the plate clean and was not feral.
My husband and I went to the emergency animal medical center, where doctors triaged the cat with fluids and antibiotics. Since we were considered “responsible” for the animal, we had 24 hours to decide his fate.
“We cannot take in another cat,” my husband declared, citing our four felines.
“I know,” I said. “It won’t work.”
While the cat received medical attention, we rushed back home and called everyone we knew. Nobody wanted a cat. We knew he’d be put down at the local animal shelter.
“We cannot take in another cat,” repeated my husband as the day grew darker and things began looking more desperate.
“I know,” I said. “We don’t have a way to introduce him to the pack.”
The problem is we don’t have a basement, mudroom, garage or outbuilding. On top of that, our house is constructed like a bagel. The foyer leads to my office, which leads to the kitchen, which leads to the dining room, which leads to the center hall, which leads to the living room, which ends back at the foyer. The donut hole, so to speak, is a small, cramped laundry room. I couldn’t imagine putting a cat in there.
The upstairs bedrooms and bathroom weren’t options either — their well-worn perches belonged to our current cats.
Each time I’ve rescued a cat, he or she has been young enough to be read the riot act by the others in exchange for room and board. But the cat we found on the hiking trail — though small and the worse for wear — was a grown male cat. And you need to give a grown cat a separate space before the others will accept him.
We kept making calls. No one would take him.
“We are going to have to take this cat,” my husband said, as the sun started to sink.
“I know,” I said. “Can we build an extension overnight?”
I wished I could turn back the clock five years, to when all the walls were down to the studs and there was a chance to build a mudroom. I’ll know better next time.
After he spent two days in the hospital, we brought the cat home and named him Patch. Small and frail, he was treated by the other cats as if he were a Doberman. There was lots of hissing, growling, hair standing on end, stiff tails.
Our cat commune was perturbed. There was no way that Patch was going to be eligible to share their litter boxes or food court. My husband and I looked at each other with despair.
Then we both looked forlornly at the laundry room.
It’s roughly 9 feet by 6 feet, though most of the floor is occupied by appliances and storage cabinets. We set up a litter box, food and water bowls, catnip toys and a little straw basket with a towel for sleeping.
Keeping him behind closed doors felt cruel. It wasn’t. This little space, though hardly ideal, saved him.
Over a couple of weeks, he got stronger. In the meantime, our brood could sniff around outside the door and get used to him. Slowly, Patch was eased out a few minutes at a time until his eventual induction.
A month later, Patch has earned free passage, but he’s still like a reality-show contestant — most likely to be voted off the island. And thus the laundry room has become his lair, his safe place, his sanctuary. Except when I’m doing a load.
Get the entire story of Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb — complete with nutty neighbors, bumbling town officials and a plethora of domestic and wild animals — in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.
E-mail: [email protected]
The lyre-leaved sage emerged with vigor the following spring. A true perennial, it returned in the same place it had been planted, and then some. Several descendants appeared nearby. They announced themselves in rosette bursts of dark green leaves alive with purpled veins. Started by seeds, I thought. Happy ones. Within weeks, tall stalks—dotted with rows of pale blue-violet blossoms—grew straight up from the leafy centers. Each flower had a triangular yawn with a wide protruding lower lip and thin top one. Noticing the sage’s effortless replication and early color among the other sleepy perennials, I let them sprout forth.
One of my cats has started following me into the bathroom.
Most of the day, he sleeps under the bed, while I am on the couch. At night, we switch. As I see it, I respect his territory and he respects mine, with only minimal crossover for such necessary exchanges as food-in-bowl and pet-on-head (he is, after all, a “good kitty”). But now, oddly, he insists on watching me poop.
“I thought we had an understanding,” I say, knees pressed together in reflexive embarrassment. “You know…you do your thing and I do mine. What’s with this?” I make a little noise like a toy-gun to spook him off. It doesn’t.
“Mrrow,” he says, and saunters over, finding my huddled knees as good a place as ever before to sidle up against.
“Cat, this is very unlike you. You never like me. And it’s not like I…” And it dawns on me. I watch him poop.
One of them has been pooping on the carpet. I haven’t been able to figure out which one. All I know is at night the carpet is clean and sometime in the night, with all the mystery and silence of Santa Clause, a little present is left for me. What’s amazing is, it’s always left in the same place: three infuriating feet to the left of the damn litter box. Never two feet, never four. That’s poop left, litter-box right: it’s like when your GPS is out of sync and a casual drive down the coast shows you a hundred feet west, driving in the water.
Now I stalk the poopers. I stay up late at night, later and later. I’m on their time now, waiting for the sound of kitty paws on artificial gravel. When one of the cats walks down the hall, I wait and listen. I creep around the corner, shielding my eyes from the ambient light to keen my senses.
Tonight, it’s the fat one in the box. Good ol’ fat one. (This is the same cat who, after first moving in, would find his way into my girlfriend’s underwear drawer. There he would lie for hours, a true predator. Eight a.m. would bring a scream, and I’d rise just in time to see gravity defied by fur, his paws outstretched, no doubt intending a kill. I was endeared to him then.)
I watch him poop, making sure it wasn’t a trick. I watch for twitches. I watch for silence. He sees me and is unmoved. I nod, acknowledging him. He is not the carpet pooper. He sits there, proudly, little head upright, the dignity of a prince, and pierces me with his repose like a general standing tall in surrender.
And now he follows me into the bathroom to watch, and I can’t blame him. I would close the door, but it seems a little sad since nobody else is around but the cats. And even that is a little sad. I never wanted to be a cat person: they’re the ones you hear stories about. I’ve seen James Bond, and the most evil of villains, the most twisted, always has a cat curled up in his lap. They are as one.
But that’s not me and the fat one. We respect each other’s territory. Maybe being a cat person just means respecting where the other one poops.
He really is a good kitty.*
*Someone, please help. Spot, “The Fat One,” has had me cornered for two days writing flattering cat stories. Even now, as I type this, he has a paw to my throat. His English is poor but his meowing is clear. I don’t have much time. Send dogs.
January 26, 2010
Everything is turquoise blue. I’m not sure how that made it into the design specifications for hospital waiting rooms but it did. The cold glare of fluorescent lighting mixes with the blue plastic covered chairs and gives a sense of anything but peace. If that was their intent they failed, whoever they are. I’ve spent an hour sitting in this hospital lobby trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Eighteen hours ago I was absolutely fine.
I arrived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas the same way I have arrived in so many other small towns over the last decade. There’s a rhythm to it. I pull in. I check into my hotel. I lower my expectations. I tell jokes. It’s really a short checklist. As I walked into the club for this weekend’s shows however, a new bullet point forced itself into the mix.
Don’t get rabies.
I entered to find the staff fully engrossed in the hunt. A cat, a gorgeous white cat, had crashed through the outer perimeter. The way they made it sound, you would have thought a terrorist operative was loose in the building. A pale flash shot from under a table, followed by a blur of mullet and overalls.
“Sumbitch!” said the Mullet. “He’s fast.”
The rest of the team moved into place. The girl behind the bar tried scare it into the backroom while a 300 pound man with disturbingly saggy pants put on his “plumbing gloves” and grabbed a tablecloth. I stood at the far end of the bar laughing. Suddenly the Big Man lunged at something invisible. From under the bar a hissing, snowy explosion shot upward, landing on a rack of glasses and destroying half of them. The cat’s screech melded with the sound of the shattering glass as the Mullet leapt over the bar. Apparently cornered, the feline sat crouched on top of a Jagermeister machine, inches away from the liquor shelf. With its hair bristling in defiance, it dared either one of the men to try to grab it.
The Big Man already had a plan. “I think… I can… get it,” he started to say. The cat hadn’t had nearly as much to drink as the man had however. They moved at the same time, the lumbering man knocking over the Jager machine and the cat knocking over every bottle of alcohol on the top two shelves. In a beautiful cascade of falling glass and colored alcohol, it sprinted for freedom.
In all honesty, I was really pulling for the cat. I was. Then it dug in and abruptly took a turn in my direction. It rocketed off the shelf, planted its back paws on the Mullet’s head, and shot through the air towards me. It hit the ground in a full run, slid across the bar floor, bounced off the wall, and fired itself directly at me.
If you’ve never had an animal throw itself at your face, it’s hard to say exactly how you would react. If you had asked me prior to this event I would have told you that I would have reacted just like a ninja should. I would simply snatch the cat out of the air with one hand, grabbing it firmly by the back of the neck, safely and harmlessly. If you asked me today though, I would not say such a silly thing.
As the cat hurtled towards me with its claws out I threw my hands in front of my face. It hit with its talons drawn and latched onto my forearm. When I tried to remove it, it struck. Like a cobra. Two gleaming incisors sank into my hand and wrist, driving down to the bone. As painful as it was, the irony of being bitten by the only thing in the entire state with a full set of teeth was not lost on me. Why couldn’t the cat be on meth like everyone else? I could have been bitten by the Mayor of that city and at the worst would only have been gummed to death. This cat though, it had a perfect set of fangs.
I flung the cat off of my arm and watched the blood shoot out of my hand. “Well sheee-it,” said the Mullet. “We thought you was gone be the one to git ‘em.”
“Sorry?” I managed to say. The cat was now hiding somewhere in a storage closet trapped behind a closed door. The girl working the door called animal control, as someone should have done to begin with instead of sanctioning this Feline Redneck Rodeo. Left to wait for the extraction team, I turned my attention to my wounds. The bartender slid a feeble attempt at medical supplies across the bar to me: a Band-Aid and a shot of Jack Daniels. I poured half of the shot on the holes in my hand and then drank the other half. I had just finished covering the injury when the bartender handed me the phone.
“Buffy wants to talk to you,” she told me, and she looked scared.
Buffy was the owner of the bar. I don’t have a lot of experience with people named Buffy, but the name conjured up negative emotions for some reason. As a matter of fact, my only real recollection of that name being used at all, in a non-vampire-slaying way, was when my great aunt used to call her dog. Her dog’s name was Buffy, but Aunt Jewel was somewhere around 114 years old, and she pronounced it “Buff-eh”. She didn’t give it the long E sound it was supposed to have, and she would snap it at the poor dog in a gravelly voice that she had earned by smoking three packs of Marlboro Reds a day for 98 years in a row.
“C’mere Buffeh!” she would growl, and then this poor beat up little black dog would come slinking into the room like some sort of villainous sidekick. So when the bartender handed me the phone and told me it was Buffy, I immediately didn’t like her.
I took the phone. “Um, hello?”
“Tell ‘em you dint git bit.”
My mind tried to process the words, to no avail. “Huh?’
“The Animal Control folks. Tell ‘em you dint git bit or they gon’ lop its head off and send it to Little Rock fer testin’.”
“Look Buffy,” I said, “It’s a little hard to hide when I have blood running down my arm and-”
“Nooooo! They gon’ chop it head off forever! That cat dint do nuthin’. You’re gon’ be fine. Folks get bit all the time ‘round here and don’t nobody die of no rabies. They gon’ put its head in a box and send it off, I’m tellin’ you!” It was like Alice in Wonderland, without the Alice and without the Wonderland… just me and cats with teeth and crazy ladies yelling about chopping off heads.
I’ll be honest; I don’t know the first thing about how you handle a feral cat once it’s been contained. I’m sure that if there is a legitimate concern that the animal has rabies or is infectious, they would be forced to put it down. What I don’t think, is that the State of Arkansas runs around arbitrarily beheading cats. Euthanasia doesn’t include hacking something’s head off with a sword, or scissors, or whatever else Buffy thought they did to something they captured.
More so, if that really is what they do to every animal they catch, then that would mean that there is a Department of Head Receiving somewhere in the great city of Little Rock. There must be someone whose job consists of unwrapping boxes like the detective in Seven and then classifying their little beasty noggins, and that’s just weird, even for Arkansas.
And I’m pro animal under most circumstances, I really am. If I thought that the cat was going to be shoved into some homemade Southern guillotine I would be the first to step up and say something. I’m not, however, going to stand idly by and let them not run a test on a cat that just chewed on my forearm like a dog bone.
In the next ten minutes the cat was hauled out of the back room hissing and screaming and flashing its claws at anything that came close, the door girl was fired by Buffy for calling animal control, and they started the comedy show. From the back of the room I watched as everyone acted like nothing had happened. A person had lost their job over this. Big Man and the Mullet had long since left. It was just me in the darkness; me, and my fear that I might turn into some sort of zombie-werecat.
So now here I am, sitting in this turquoise room. It is 3:30 in the afternoon on an overcast day in a not-so-affluent suburb, sixty-four degrees and cloudy just like a Pearl Jam video. Somewhere Jeremy is at home drawing pictures, and I am waiting to get shots that will hopefully prevent me from transforming into a rabid Arkansan.
A fat nurse walks out as I contemplate my existence. I may or may or may not have contracted rabies. I won’t know for an hour or so. What I do know is that somewhere in Arkansas there is a horrible woman named Buffy who believes all cats die of decapitation. I know that, and that I never come home with a boring story.
This story begins on a dark and wintry evening and involves death and hormones.
You have been warned.
I was driving home, a passenger in my girlfriend’s car, with a belly full of El Mariachi’s and a head full of girlie-talk. Something mellow and groovy played on the stereo as the backdrop to a lively discussion about life and love and pain and weirdness and all the other good things girls talk about because we can.
Outside the air was cold and dark and crisp. Almost exactly like a burnt potato chip kept in a freezer. But not.
We turned a corner and drove up my street, past old Victorians with curtains drawn and windows darkened, storefronts and lampposts dripping with blinking Christmas lights. It was a very different scene from several hours before when my neighborhood was alive with multitudes of middle aged bourgeois pushing strollers to and fro the Whole Foods market, sipping soy lattes and waiting for the sleek, black Google bus to pick them up and drive them in luxurious, techy glory to their jobs south of the city; Jonahs in the belly of a streamlined whale.
The streets were glistening wet from an earlier rainfall as we approached my house. The music crooned from the speakers and our voices and giggles trailed behind us like happy exhaust fumes in the night. Good times, good times.
But then I saw it. Not a block from my front door. Curled up in the middle of the road, dead. It’s ears clearly visible, it’s body still whole.
My entire being deflated. My heart broke. All sound and joy rushed from my universe in one giant vacuumed slurp.
I can remember distinctly the first time I saw a dead creature on the road. I was about five years old on a road trip with my dad and stepmother. The cat was fluffy, orange and white. There was no blood, no gore, just an empty body on a lonely highway, eyes dulled, ginger fur blowing in the breeze. It was a moment of lost innocence, my first understanding that life can be cruel and fleeting. I cried for a long time, a broken, devastated little girl in the back seat as we groaned and rattled our way along the country roads of New Zealand in our beat up, beat down Combi van.
As an adult, I have long wondered why humans don’t build underpasses into freeways; tunnels that deer, raccoons and other prospective road-kill could use to cross beneath our fearsome, ugly slashes of bitumen. Every time I see a dead animal on the roads and highways a part of me breaks.
Some would call me overly sentimental. I would tell them to go fuck themselves.
We pulled into the driveway. My body was home but my mind was still a block away. I could hear my girlfriend talking but I couldn’t process anything. I was obsessed. I was a five year old girl again, freaking out in that van.
Some platitudes were uttered and I was reassured that life was good. We said goodbye. I was alone. Alone and hormonal.
Nothing good can come from that combination.
I went inside my happy, hippy home and turned on the lights. I sat down on the bed and felt bogged down with heavy stuff. I yearned for some okayness. I wanted this to be different. I wanted someone else to deal with it, to tell me what to do, to make it all better, but my man was away on business; my go-to person was gone.
The five year-old inside me started to panic. “It’s still in one piece. Another car is going to hit it.” My adult brain tried to soothe my five year-old self, but she was having none of it. “We have to get it off the road! What if another little kid sees it? What if the person who it belonged to discovers it when it’s just a stain on the street?” I sat down. I stood up. I calmed myself. I lost it. I found it. I tried to breathe some serenity into my body. I meditated a little, tried to find my inner yoga. I began to compose myself. I imagined some grotesque visuals. I distracted myself. I heard a car go past and thought some gruesome thoughts. Then I picked up my laptop and IM’d my dude.
Me: there is a dad kitten outside on the street and I can’t get it out of my head
it’s in the middle of the road and I wish you were here
Him: aw fuck
does he have a collar?
Me: I dunno
it’s a kitten
it’s dark and I don’t want to get too close
Me: what should I do
another car is going to get it
Him: he’s obviously dead?
there’s a city organization for that
they will come get him
Him: i do’t know their name… but you can look it up
Me: I have my period and this is not going well for me
Him: they clean up animal bodies you can try to call SF Animal Control at 650.638.9029
Him: he’s dead.. there’s nothing you can do. he’s not in his body anymore.
that thing on the street is just matter.
Him: i love you.
Me: question. I am just assuming the kitten was dead b/c it wasn’t moving when I drove past. what should I do?
Him: you have a few choices re: kitteh
1.. ignore it. if its dead… which it probably is since cats don’t like to sleep in the street… then there is nothing you can do. unless you want to go out there and clean it up…
Me: call me please