from My Cat Jeoffry
JEOFFRY AND THE BOBCAT
Read told me Friday night. It was difficult to eat. Then he decided we should go out for ice cream. I waited in the car for him to bring the ice cream.
On Saturday morning she wasn’t on the stairs and that was when I knew she probably wasn’t coming back. After Read’s appointment we drove to Denver and packed all of my stuff from the apartment and put it in the truck. We drove back to Lyons after giving the person who is subletting my apartment the keys and a lucky beer.
And it was while we were waiting for Joe, the subletter, to arrive that Karen called and said her friend had seen a longhaired black cat that might have been Jeoffry.
Gilda, Karen’s friend, says I should be optimistic.
She also said a bobcat had been living in the canyon across from The Stone Cup and that it had killed someone’s dog. The Stone Cup is less than a block from our house.
Gilda knew of the bobcat.
Why had we not known of the bobcat?
We had heard what we knew now had been bobcat cries in the neighborhood a few nights before Jeoffry disappeared. Read went out with a flashlight looking for it. When threatened, we learned (too late!) bobcats utter a sound that is somewhere between a cough and a bark.
Then we forgot about it. I was hastily translating Rousseau for my French final.
Friday evening Read told me he had found tracks in the garden and then we remembered the strange animal shit we had seen beside the irises.
Saturday morning I looked at the tracks and found more dirt on the fence and on the other side what looked like drops of dried blood.
Do you think I should be optimistic?
If I hear the bobcat, I will be too sad.
When I was much younger, but after I had acquired my first cat, I listened to another student read a poem about how his cat had been hit by a car. It was an elegy for his cat and while he was reading it he was obviously very emotional. I did not like the poem, and felt sorry for him. I wonder whether I would like it now.
Thinking about this I rub my eyes which are itching as they always do when I use the blanket Jeoffry used to lie on. Now that Jeoffry is gone, I am happy to be allergic to what is left of her.
Since I began studying for a doctorate I have become more knowledgeable. I know a lot about Edwardian novels, compared to most people. But knowing a lot about Edwardian novels was not going to help my writing in any way that I could foresee. Unless I wrote poems that were like excerpts from Edwardian novels, because I couldn’t write a whole Edwardian novel could I? A post-Edwardian novel? A pseudo-Edwardian novel? Because what I love about an Edwardian novel is partly its length. And its realism. I like “the illusion of life.”
Whereas before I had been running out of subject matter now I can talk about Shelley or Emily Dickinson for several minutes without pausing for breath. My poems from now on will have subject matter. They will not be exclusively about my feelings.
I am afraid to look out the window because I am afraid I will look into the eyes of the bobcat.
Another person I know has not gone back to school and as a result her poetry is pure of subject matter. I admire this person greatly, but there is another person who writes in sentences and paragraphs that are tonally similar but who has had an interesting life and writes about it. Is that the kind of realism I am interested in?
And, is realism the best thing for me now? Do I have a “realistic imagination”?
If it weren’t for Read, I don’t think I could continue to live out here in the country. I would be too afraid of the bobcat looking in the windows at me.
Is that an unrealistic imagination?
By now I should have decided what it is I want to write about and in what manner I want to write it. I have the idea of writing a poem that like a song would have many parts, tunes, rhythms, subjects, not just one subject carried out for one purpose as is the case in the poems I have written until now. The trouble is that when you rewrite parts of a poem it is easy to mess up the rhythm.
Other than Jeoffry having been eaten by a bobcat everything is fine.
I wonder what the person who wrote the poem about his dead cat is doing now for a living?
I think I see the shadow of the bobcat pass in front of the lettuce.
My worst fear is that one of us has accidentally locked her in a closet and she can’t get out and will die of thirst.
But since we have checked all the closets and the basement and even asked our neighbors to check their garages and outbuildings, this is not a realistic imagination.
It is strange that my writing life began again when Jeoffry was eaten by a bobcat.
If you are lucky you can recover from painful events, but if you are not lucky all the painful events can get together and kill you.
Today I will call the sheriff to tell him that I think there is a bobcat preying on pets in downtown Lyons.
I wonder if Jeoffry’s body is near The Stone Cup. I am too afraid of the bobcat to look. Besides, I don’t know if I want to see Jeoffry’s body after a bobcat has been eating it.
It seems unnatural for a cat to eat another cat. But hawks eat smaller birds too.
Sometimes you hurt so badly that for several seconds you wish you were dead. Then the feeling passes and you feel like you can put up with the pain, if it doesn’t go on indefinitely.
Perhaps the reason Mike hasn’t replied to my calls and emails is that he didn’t like Snip Snip! I have mixed feelings about it myself. But Mike is a very ethical person. Perhaps he is better friends with my ex-husband now than he is with me. I am not a particularly ethical person, compared to them.
It is a lovely feeling when someone you like likes you also and you instantly understand each other. You feel better about yourself when someone you admire likes you.
Last night Read turned off Jeoffry’s food dispenser because the food piling up in her dish was making us sad.
As I told Read the other night if I were a novelist I would memorize the first and last sentences of all my books. Sometimes I think I am a poet who would rather be a novelist. Poetry takes a lot out of you. Novels are easier to understand because they are written in sentences. Sentences make people feel comfortable.
I think someone has already written a poem in the guise of a novel. It was called a povel and I have a copy of it somewhere. I am just guessing that it was written in sentences but did not really tell a story except in a poetic way.
If I were to write an Edwardian novel, perhaps it would be a “dialogue novel,” like The Awkward Age. If it had dialogue it would have to have characters conversing with one another. That would be unlike a poem.
It is so hard to believe that Jeoffry will never come home.
When a cat that loved you is gone, there is a sudden decrease in the love you are used to enjoying and your own love has nowhere to go and the habit of paying attention leaves you when the cat is not where it should be.
I just have to get used to the fact that she will not be seen in her usual places around the house. I am alone except for Read. And right now Read is sleeping.
I woke up early because of a bird that sang very loudly by the bedroom window at dawn.
I closed the window, but later I imagined that Jeoffry had entered the body of the bird and was trying to let me know she was OK. I don’t really believe this but I am writing it anyway. In what way could being dead be OK?
A SHRINE TO JEOFFRY
Discipline is necessary if one is to accomplish what one has set out to do. The state of mind that encourages poem-writing is not the state of mind that accomplishes things. The weather has been antagonistic to accomplishing things as well—for instance, right now it is raining while the sun shines.
How strange—it is Wednesday yet someone is having a barbeque. Unless that smell is coming from one of the businesses on Main Street.
The only stoplight in Lyons is two blocks south of our house. You can see how we thought a bobcat would never come so close to our house, which is practically in the center of town.
I want to know more about the way bobcats hunt, so that I can rest assured that Jeoffry died a quick death. But I am afraid to look because I don’t want to be able to visualize what happened, or I don’t know if I want to be able to visualize it.
I think some people would think that I am mining Jeoffry’s death for poem material. That would be very unfair. I feel better when I devote some time every day to thinking about Jeoffry and setting down my memories of her.
If Jeoffry were alive today, she would probably be lying in the grass next to my chair. Every now and then she would look up while I petted her. She might roll over onto her back for easier access to her belly. It was mostly in the evening that she chased bugs to make us laugh. Or climbed several feet up a tree trunk for no reason except to show off. Or practiced her escape route to the porch. It’s no wonder we thought she was a match for any predator. She had planned out an escape route! I think she knew she was taking a risk when she went out that night. She was overconfident. She thought the bobcat wouldn’t come inside the fence so soon after we returned from dinner. She thought the bobcat would stay away because of the lights but the lights attracted the bobcat instead.
It’s strange that there was no sound. Not even a hiss—I would have heard it, through the screen door. She must have been frightened out of her wits. If she had screamed, I might have come out in time to save her, or at least to recover her body. I would have seen the bobcat.
This morning I said to Read, “Jeoffry was always doing something interesting.” He pointed out that this was not true, and I said, “OK, most of the time,” and then, “OK, sometimes.” It is true that a lot of the time she lay on the chair in the bump-out or sat by the parlor window or lay dozing in the grass or on the mulch near the clematis. If it was very hot she lay under the table on the patio if it was shady there or if she could get into the basement spent the day sleeping on a cardboard box close to the floor joists. I couldn’t remember if she had been stung by an insect the day she disappeared or whether it had been a day earlier. I had come downstairs to make coffee and saw her leaping sideways after touching something with her paw between the planks of the ramp. I don’t know if that was what it was for sure but it was an example of how she sometimes did things that were diverting.
Making a shrine to Jeoffry is something I’ve considered. Like one of those pieces of posterboard folded into thirds that we used to make displays for the science fair in fourth grade, with a burning candle in front of it with some of Jeoffry’s toys, mummified treats, pink rubber brush, and maybe some poems glued to the posterboard. R.I.P. Jeoffry, 2007-2009.
It is because of Jeoffry that I have not written the book review or started taking notes for my exams. And the novelty of being able to sit under a tree with my computer on a board across the armrests of the Adirondack chair surrounded by blooming flowers with the breeze softly blowing and moving the shadows of the leaves on my keyboard. This happened last summer at exactly the same time. Thank goodness for summers or I never would get any writing done.
I wonder if it is fair to mention people in your poems without letting them know. Only once have I promised anyone not to publish a poem I wrote about her. I think if you repress too much in your poems it is bound to be bad for you and confusing for readers. But just as you can have a conversation with someone without saying everything that is on your mind so can you write a poem. Trouble occurs when you write something you should probably have repressed and then you try to take it out, because you are likely to damage the rhythmic integrity and psychological realism of your poem.
Henry James said that “the first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness.” In The Ambassadors in particular looseness had not been much his affair. In creating Strether he avoided “the terrible fluidity of self-revelation.” James preferred to reveal character through conversation. It is strange because the point of The Ambassadors is Strether’s changing awareness, but James did not want to approach this from the inside. Strether has “exhibitional conditions to meet” that forbid self-revelation, exhibitional conditions imposed by James. In his maturity James favored dramatic, or “scenic” treatments over what he called “representational effects” or “referential narrative,” a novelistic technique that was fine for Balzac but which by the 20th century James felt was outdated. Strether could not be approached from the outside, neither could he be approached from “inside,” but he must reveal himself only through dialogue and decision. It is not that there is no omniscient description in The Ambassadors, but that the most crucial information is disclosed in conversations that frequently show characters “hanging fire,” so that the crucial information is intimated—hinted at—rather than openly stated. Decorous evasions are an essential element of James’s late style.
It is the average reader’s inability to imagine why James’s characters “hang fire” that results in the bafflement and irritation many people report when reading James’s last novels. The reasons these characters do not blurt things out are also foreign to most readers, the 21st century being less uptight than the 19th. The average reader—a step above the “common” one—is likely to feel frustrated that he does not understand what has been left unsaid. It is all “too subtle.” Those “precious discriminations” James was so excited by are too precious for most people. They do not want to guess what an author means. Americans in particular are like this, impatient. European writers and readers understand that coming to the point at once is not always desirable. This must be evident to anyone who has read Austerlitz.
A POEM THAT IS FULL OF INFORMATION
Sometimes we find ourselves beset with burning questions:
Did changes in the composition of the reading public after 1900 really threaten to destroy the “very habits of mind that made possible the creation of a lasting and significant literature”?
What would Horace have made of Walter Pater’s “speaking pictures”?
At these times we worry that we are becoming too “academic.” That our interests are becoming so arcane that communication with other people is hampered.
It is enjoyable to wonder, with Saintsbury, “whether, after Shelley, any other poets are wanted.”
It is fine to “feel the fascination of bold philosophical ideas” as long as we use them inconsistently.
Naturally we hope that in obeying our principles we do not, generally or always, write bad poetry, and that when writing good poetry we do not, purposely or inadvertently, betray our principles.
If one were to continually extinguish one’s personality, one’s poems might approach the condition of science. But isn’t it obvious that there is too much science already?
There is essentially no difference between Eliot’s theory of impersonality and Yeats’s spirit messages and Spicer’s radios and Martians. In each case the poet acts as a conduit for his culture. Metaphors like these allow poets to relax into the feeling of “bien-être,” or tranquility, that Pater says is necessary for invention.
The opposite of poetry is didactic writing. But this is not a useful distinction because pure genres don’t exist anymore. You can have a poem that is narrative, elegiac, prosaic, meditative, ordinary and literary. It can be didactic as long as it is not only didactic, because then it will really be straying into the territory of prose, and probably too far from the precincts of beauty. Because poetry should be beautiful more than anything else.
The intrusions of the personal into the scholarly are necessary for a variety of effect. Also the personal is a respite from “bold philosophical ideas.”
All the same, one ought to refrain from frivolous allusions to one’s puppy.
How can anyone say that there is too much science? We have not even figured out yet how to “solve” climate change! But this is not really true. We know, but cannot persuade governments to act soon enough.
One might as well make use of what one knows, otherwise there is nothing but feelings. As well as being about beauty poetry ought in some way to be about feelings, because thinking about facts makes them much more interesting, and feeling a thought makes it more powerful.
Feeling is very important also with regard to memory. When you remember an idea it is usually linked with the feeling that you had when you learned it. If it was a strong feeling (a feeling of excitement perhaps) you are more likely to remember it than if it was a weak feeling. Sometimes people speak of something having produced “a vivid impression,” for example when they went to a leper colony to buy plants when they were twelve. In that case there was something striking about the idea of lepers and there was also excitement at being in a place where there were so many beautiful flowers in a country where there were still lepers.
It is good not to be too consistent because then you will not be poetic if by poetic you mean “intimately conscious of the expression of natural things.” That was Coleridge’s weakness, as Keats and Pater independently pointed out: he was not content with “half-knowledge,” and was too attracted to “philosophical formulas.” Whether you believe this to be true or not, it is certain that poetry is less poetic when it is systematic.
One thing we have learned from empirical science is that theories must always be modified by facts. Poetry is about facts, too, but even more, it is about the artist’s “sense of facts”: facts modified by perception and feeling.
At a certain point it is necessary to do what one has been talking about doing. One can go on talking about it if one wishes. It is best not to appear to be trying to persuade. After all poetry is not rhetoric.
All day there has been a feeling of dying, a coldness in the air, witherings; yellow leaves strew the lawn. The cat comes in early and there is an hour of peace while the puppy is at the store and the phone does not ring. There is always too much to do, most of the time one feels like weeping. The students must be made to learn, the cat must be protected, one wants to keep up with the reading, but it cannot all be done except at the cost of much-needed sleep. At least, now, for a few minutes all is quiet: the dog asleep in her kennel, the cat curled in a white ball on the table by the window.
The cat! Has Jeoffry come back? No, it is Pinkie, the new cat. She is tiny and white, with pink nose, ears, tongue and toepads. When the sun shines through her ears they glow fiercely. I could not resist: I bought her a pink collar with her name spelled out in rhinestones.
But do not think I have forgotten Jeoffry. Jeoffry! Where are you?
Tina Brown Celona is the author of The Real Moon of Poetry and Other Poems (Fence 2002) and Snip Snip! (Fence 2006). Her poems can be read in interrupture, Map Literary, Catch-Up, and Typo. She lives in Denver, CO.