Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dear Abbie

The first time I read Martha Cat's song for all the cats who had gone before, last year, I got a little misty. So I'm not ashamed to say that yesterday, when I learned that Martha herself had moved on to join their ranks, I sat in my office and cried like a little baby. I don't care if it IS a blog written by a cat; it's haunting and lovely and I wept for real. Godspeed, brave pirate Martha. Poor Abbie; poor Abbie-and-Martha's Guy.

How is it that pets affect us so deeply? I have loved and grieved for more than a dozen, just in my lifetime, and it gets no easier with repetition. The only time I've ever heard my father sob openly was when he finally put down his adored 16-year-old dog. I've been breathlessly following the sagas of several post-Katrina pet rescues out of New Orleans--Poppy's multitude of cats, Blake Bailey's lone, cranky one--and feeling slightly guilty for it, because, hello, THE PEOPLE. I know. I know. Maybe the tide of human misery is so vast, so unfathomable, that zeroing in on somebody's sodden tabby is an ever-so-slightly more manageable point of entry into knowing the crisis. I have cats, so I understand how vulnerable they are, how dependent on me, how I couldn't explain an emergency to them. I am unable to even imagine trying to save human friends and family, trying to salvage entire lives from murky, moldering ruin. I have to avert my eyes, throw money at the Red Cross to make it bearable. Kitties, at least, I get.

This poem by Franz Wright ran in the New Yorker in December 2003, right around the time I had to put one of my cats down after her own losing battle with pancreatitis. Petunia. I read it and read it and read it, finally pasted it into the sloppy longhand journal I keep for myself. Last night, I read it again.

On the Death of a Cat

In life, death
was nothing
to you: I am

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection)--no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
lustre, little

milk fang, whiskered
night
friend--

go.

1 comment:

sgrayson said...

The poet Wendell Berry has a poem that tears me up every time I read it. The poem starts off, "The eager dog lies strange and still..." I've saved a copy of it so I can read it over my beloved Cody's ceremony when he meets the fate that awaits us all.