A Reason For Poems, accompanied by cats

Thanks to Bob Jaeger and apologies to Ada Limón

I’m talking to the cats because they’re alone all day and only have a brief distraction when I come over to feed them. “So how was your day?” I ask. “You were sleeping weren’t you? You look like you were sleeping. What? Am I taking too long? But you can see that your bowls need washing. Patience, you know, is a virtue.”

Ruach appears promptly to eat but I understand I am not to touch her, nor even come near her really. Once I’ve put her food down I back away quickly or she won’t even approach the dish. I am not a real person to Roo. I am a barely tolerable fixer of food and litter box cleaner. I have no illusions. Roo’s real person will be back in three more days. She’s in Ireland, an enviable location.

Liat is another matter, greets me at the door, jumps on the table and taps me on the arm with her paw: “hey, over here. Look at me. I need petting.”

Liat on the table

I can never stay long, but try to bring something to do with me so I will linger a little to keep the cats company. Email to check, a New Yorker essay to finish reading.

Today I brought my phone because Bob sent me poems and I haven’t had time to read and respond to them. I subscribe to one poem-a-day list and Bob subscribes to another. A lot of the poems we read, shrug, delete. We’re tough critics. But when a good one comes along, we send it to each other.

Roo finishes eating, wants no more to do with me, and slinks back upstairs. “If you need me,” she seems to say, “I’ll be in the darkest corner under the bed.” Goth cat. Taking no note of Roo’s departure, Liat wishes to know why I’m not petting her.

I open one of the poems Bob sent and find it square. Ah, a sonnet. I begin reading:

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out/of the crabapple tree…

Liat bumps her head against my legs, wanders back to her so recently full dish, looks at me as if to say, “see how empty it is.”

“If you are not careful, Liat, you will turn into a fat cat. Come here and I’ll read you a poem.”

Liat demurs. I ignore her and continue the poem anyway.

…more than …cherry limbs shoving/their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate/ sky…

“That’s nice, don’t you think? Those pink blossoms against a slate sky?” Liat rubs round my ankles, paces down the hall restlessly, unimpressed.

I sit. Now I am a lap. This is much better. Liat jumps up instantly. “If you’re going to walk around my lap, that’s not really—O.K. settle down. I was telling you that more, more than all those blossoms—”

it’s the greening of the trees/ that really gets to me. When all the shock of white/ and taffy…leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, /the leaves come.

“Ouch, Liat, don’t dig into my knees. My knees are sensitive. Those cherry blossoms fall exactly like confetti. Are you even listening? Where’s Roo? Where’s your buddy? O.K. here’s the next part, then.”

Patient, plodding, a green skin/ growing over whatever winter did to us, a return/ to the strange idea of continuous living despite/ the mess of us, the hurt, the empty.

Liat has begun to purr, softly. “Oh, Liat, that bit about a green skin covering what winter did to us almost choked me up.” Liat massages my thigh gently, her front paws spread into furry fingers. “If it can choke you up, it’s probably a good poem.”

I spy Roo’s gray head peering from the top of the stairs. “You like the poem after all, hey Roo? Didn’t want to miss the conclusion? It’s only fourteen lines, you know.” I direct my voice toward the second floor.

Roo on the stairs

Fine then,/ I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf/ unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

“Like a fist to a palm,” I repeat for the cats, demonstrating with my own hands how my fists, clenched tight with the anger ignited by this regime, can unfold into the pacific palms up position. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

Roo continues to gaze impassively from the stairs, gray head, golden eyes. Liat settles her blue-eyed self more comfortably into my lap.

In these hard times, despite the mess, the hurt, the empty of us, it is good to read such a poem, which is after all titled “Instructions On Not Giving Up.” And better yet to read it aloud with a purring cat in one’s lap.


Ada Limón’s wonderful sonnet, in its proper format and without cat disturbances, can be found below.




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9 Responses to A Reason For Poems, accompanied by cats

  1. winnie says:

    I dearly love cats; their personalities each so unique. and you describe them so that each one’s stands out for all to see. And I love your playful conversations with them.
    Great writing, as always.

  2. Agustin says:

    I love your cats and their names! 🙂

    • dubrava says:

      Querido Agustín, their names are Hebrew. They live next door and I enjoy taking care of them.

    • Vohwinkel says:

      Dear Mr. Agustin,

      Ruach means ghost (because she is so shy and she is grey) and Liat means “you are mine”. I am very lucky that Pat is taking care of them and even reads poetry to them.

      Ruach’s person

      • dubrava says:

        And, Sr. Agustín Cadena, Christine has assured me she’ll continue the practice of reading poetry to them. Christine, Agustín is as internationally odd as you are: a Mexican teaching in English in Hungary.

  3. Jana says:

    Wonderful poem! Thank you for passing it along. So much published poetry (NewYorker for example) isn’t worth the paper they print it on. This piece is exquisite! Also, you have to be the best cat sitter in the world!! I’d love to write a children’s story about the cat sitter who reads poetry to her charges!

  4. Bob Jaeger says:

    Hey, Pat. So glad you enjoyed the Ada Limon poem; it’s a keeper for sure. Great job weaving it together with neighborly cat care—lovely tapestry.

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