Most of us have lost at least one pet in our lifetimes, some of us have lost many. Usually there is one who stands out from the others as that special animal friend who is part of the family.
Our tabby cat Mikie, who died August 10, 2005, was such a friend. After his death, I wrote the following poems in days and weeks of tears that seemed to come from a bottomless lake. My hope in printing them here is that they might bring some comfort to someone somewhere who has loved and lost an animal friend.
The Mikie Cycle
Your heart, the cat of your dream
torn open. In panic
you accuse your beloved son
of the act.
How could you
hurt my cat? you ask in disbelief.
This morning you ponder meaning,
sit with that same cat in your lap
stroking the site of the dream-wound,
your hand unbloodied, your eye distant––
Surely someone can explain
what has happened here.
Everything’s changed since yesterday.
Our cat has disappeared.
Coyotes screaming at the door
at 4 o’clock this morning, we fear
they’ve taken our dear Mikie
in teeth and jaws that can snap
a cat’s back. And yet, we hope
he’s up in a tree somewhere, afraid
preparing to climb down
and find us, see us
for his safe and soon return.
Address to Mikie
This morning I half gladly tell you
two birds I’d never seen before
landed on the deck and hopped about.
If you’d been at your post
they’d never have stayed for more than the jot
of time it’ve taken you to leap on one
and dispatch it to the place you may have
come yourself by now.
It’s late for the mourning dove
to coo her plaint. Nearly noon before I notice
her crying on the telephone line.
Inwardly urged, I return to the house
to see three vultures overhead
riding the currents of noon wind.
One alights atop the oak, another on pine,
the third is on the ground. In dread
I follow their ominous lead to one tuft, two
of gray fur, the terrible trail
to the torn body dropped in coyote’s
flight of blood and saliva.
Oh Mikie, I cry, knocked to my knees
by the sight. Pickers and clumps
of stumbling grasses prevent my running
to come out on the other side of this time.
The vultures. I’ve got to protect him.
I run for a towel. Not enough, they’ll pull it off
and tear him again. Oh, my God! What can I do.
The tin, yes, pieces of tin. I cover the towel with tin
then slabs of wood to hold it down.
My light blown early
out, I sit in the dark.
Like lava rumbling up,
an eruption from the earth’s core
spills over again and again. No more! I cry
but once again, it flows over and down
the crusted cheeks of the mountain’s face,
which are my own.
When does grief become unseemly?
Too many days have you mourned this cat, I hear
in my inner critic’s ear, but I cannot dam the river.
How many days are too many?
How long did David mourn his son
crying, Absalom! Absalom!
If only I had died instead of you.
Only silence. No breeze
moves the needles of the pine.
In our game you’d hit the ball to me
but I don’t know where to hit it back
now you’ve gone. Send me a dream
little friend. Tell me what you understand
that you did not understand before
you left us here, waiting in sorrow
our hearts breaking for you.
We cannot change what is.
I’ve been Velveteen Rabbit all my life
until now, sitting on useless legs
pretending they were real when they were not.
Love for a cat and the death of that cat
have made me real.
I would rather
the cloth and stuffing
than this flesh whose very veins
pulsate with pain.
All prattle the plea, Make me real.
Someone was listening
and I’ll never be cloth again.
Like a shepherd herding the young lambs
into the fenced enclosure, hoping
to keep them safe for one more night
or the parent holding tight to the toddler
while tides of waves break on the beach,
you tried to keep it all in reach
but found you could not control the coyote
who hidden in grass under cover of night
stalked and seized his screaming prey
while you slept too deeply to wake and face the loss.
A membrane is growing over the wound, fragile
love still possible by osmosis.
Increase my capacity for appreciation, you prayed
and now you are counting the cost.
The mourning dove knows
and counts it too. Crying, she warned you
of what lay ahead, but charmed by the cut
of her mourning coat, you asked again
with ignorant passion to be opened to All
of What Life Is, and you found death
again, the weeping dance.
The mourning dove’s perch is staked
through your heart. No respecter of hours, she
wakes you at 3 when you would sleep
but then you remember and cannot.
Be careful what you giddy ask for. It will
be granted because Who Could Refuse?
My hands long for your soft body, my mouth
to fill your tufted ears with psalms of praise
as I would when carrying you down the stairs
to the foot of the bed, at the foot of your friend
where you lay, The Prince, the one to whom
the bereft in the kingdom would come.
Imagine looking into the eyes
of bobcat, coyote, mountain lion
where any reflection of you is an accident of light.
You have no meaning beyond being creature––
predator or prey remains to be seen––
images of lion and lamb together scattered by confrontation.
Fables dissolve in mutual assessment,
in cold curiosity, the greater fear,
the longer claw, determining who will prevail.
I would not have chosen turkey vultures
to show me the way to you disemboweled––
the simple truth of the food chain, a heartless
spiral that perpetually turns.
I have the choice of turning with it
or opposing what is and always has been
the ride in the amusement park
that does not amuse
hilarity evaporated and all reduced to a sigh.
Nearly three weeks have exhausted themselves
in tears since your body was torn. My heart
torn too, if truth be told. Hurricane winds blow
fresh today; the wound remains
open. Rains in the Gulf and Lake Ponchetrain
surge over levees at New Orleans. A wall
of water floats the caskets of the dead
who have lain in state atop the ground.
Those floating dead and huddled living
swirl in the eye of a storm of common grief.
I claim that grief for you, my cat
torn by coyote from life, like a babe
from its mother’s arms in the flooding streets.
I claim that grief for all who weep and suffer loss
of limb, of parent, of perfect child, of house,
of hope tethered to distant dreams.
Broken houses, churches, schools––
the splintered wood of people’s lives
at odd angles gives odd consolation.
The community of grief is universal.
From Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth
…the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.
Neti, chief gatekeeper of the Kur
I am stitching together my dismembered self
with poems about you, my dismembered cat.
Like Inanna naked in the underworld,
hacked by her sister Ereshkigal
and hung on a meat hook
I’ve hung in the dark
my royal identity lost
treachery unfolding on all sides.
Alone, I’ve forgotten my name.
A gentle zephyr recalls you.
Your soft memory restores my breath.
If I can breathe, I can call the poem to life
and cling to its flying feet
as we rise in words––you and I––
from the hook of hell.
Webs of snot have caught grief
and wrung its life from endless pools of tears.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman:
Whoever drinks the water I give
will never be thirsty…the water I give
shall become a fountain within
leaping up to provide eternal life.
O sad surprise!
This grief, this living water,
crying for you and for the world––
I don’t know what I expected
but it wasn’t this.
In my fantasy, I shoot the coyote.
But irony rules,
so in the process I shoot myself.
The encyclopedia of death-in-nature
describes the death you knew full well
at a level of instinct I yet resist
and brandish a pistol in foolish dance.
The time will come––soon perhaps––
when my feet will accept the worn steps
of an older dance and coyote will be my partner.
Do I dare visit your grave today to deliver asters and goldenrod
and read this poem, hoping you know how much we love you
and do not forget? How we walk the woods without you
listening for sounds, watching for changes of color and movement––
shifting leaves, a track, some scat––the woods no longer the same
without you. We were safe together, or so we foolish thought
before what came to be a wooden world
filled with shadowy shapes that could be glacial erratic,
animal body poised in camouflage stillness waiting to strike.
Then, we walked in a fragrant garden.
The snake has whispered, Death, and we are afraid.
When winter fills in forest spaces between trees
whose leaves are crushed under weight of snow,
we’ll see clearly to reclaim the ground from what
took you away. We’ll walk the trails again and remember
your tail, hooked with joy as you followed and led
the way into what is now.