My Cat Will Never Write A Poem
I am hardly the mystic type. People who know me think of me as more of a science guy. Nevertheless, the other evening I was reading my way through a book by a fellow who is clearly regarded by others as a mystical person. A friend of mine -- himself a moderately mystical person -- is thinking about a project based on this fellow's work and so I was curious to read some of it. I'm not mentioning the fellow's name or the title of the work I was reading for fear of jinxing my friend's project even before he starts a-bornin' it.
So I'm reading along, the classical music station playing in the background, when the part of my brain assigned to handling musical input informs me that I'm listening to Saint-Saëns' organ symphony. My brain is thrown into a panic. All reading systems shut down and all available power is switched over into my listening engines. That piece of music is so delightful, all resistance is futile.
As I listen, I note my cat is nestled near my feet on the sofa. His head is up, as if he's paying attention rather than snoozing, but his eyes are closed. By all appearances, he adores this piece of music as well. Except, of course, I'm pretty sure he doesn't.
I play all sorts of music, and by all outward signs my cat just takes all this noise for granted. I think my cat is a pretty smart guy, but even I can't believe he actually understands the science of digital audio reproduction equipment. I think he must assume that what I think of as "my music" is just another part of the environment he lives in. It's just a part of this world that he moves through and doesn't bother to explain to himself. Well... "doesn't bother"... it's not really a cat's job to explain the world to itself, is it? If something moves quickly across a cat's field of view, it's his job to catch it and eat it. If the thing looks like it might be a good meal, it's his job to sneak up on it and pounce. It isn't his job to wonder why water is falling on him when it rains, nor why he has to squint his eyes against the October winds.
All that stuff just is as far as he's concerned. And this noise that occasionally issues forth into his world -- this noise I think of as "my music" -- well, that just is, too. Where does his food come from? Well, I give it to him. That's all he knows. He doesn't wonder where I get it. I just, you know, have it, and then I give it to him. He takes a dump in his box. That just is. I doubt he wonders why he has this odd feeling inside his gut; he just knows that when he does, he goes to his box and produces a dump. Does he ask why poop comes out of him? Does he connect the food I give him to his dump?
These are not questions cats ask. How do I know? I'm supposedly a science guy. How do I know my cat doesn't connect the food I give him with the poop he produces?
Because he's never written a poem about it, that's why.
So I'm listening to this gorgeous, utterly delightful piece of music, and I'm watching my cat listening to it as well, and so I go ahead and ask him: "What do you think, Jeff? You like this piece?"
He moves his head in my direction, slightly, without even bothering to open his eyes.
I know he has no opinion. He has no opinions about anything, really. He has food that he likes. He has birds that he likes to kill. He likes to bring me little baby mice still wriggling in his mouth. But he doesn't really have much to say about any of that. These are not things that require opinions of him; they just are. They are not subject to analysis. They do not demand his insight. There are no poems he needs to write about them.
I glance down at the book sitting open on my lap. It's about all sorts of things I don't think about much. It's about ways of being alive that I don't particularly give much credence to. In fact, I don't really connect much of any of it to my own way of being alive.
I cope with reading this book -- that is, I maintain my interest in it -- by allowing myself to view it as a kind of poetry. Or -- better put -- I think about it the same way I think about ghost stories. I don't believe in ghosts, but I love ghost stories because they can be such powerful metaphors for what it means to be a living being. Ghosts are about longing, and regret, and pain, and love. There's nothing like a really good ghost story to fill you in on what it means to be alive. And so, more or less, I adapt this way of thinking to the book I'm reading now. I don't necessarily have to believe in God to believe in something called God's love.
But sitting there on my sofa with my cat, listening to Saint-Saëns, it occurs to me that I could be just as stupid about the things in my world as my cat is about the things in his. That noise isn't just noise, you foolish cat, that is music. It means something. It doesn't just inexplicably exist, you know. It's Saint-Saëns.
And so I resolve to wonder about "noise" the way my cat does not. I'd have to be an idiot -- in short, I'd have to be my cat -- to think that there isn't more to be experienced in this world than what I've experienced myself, or that there aren't other ways to understand those things I think I already understand.
Finally, just to be perfectly fair to my cat... I tried writing poetry once. A long time ago. Based on the evidence I think it is safe to say neither one of us has the complete trick of it. He was blessed with the poet's powers of observation (especially at night) and I got the reflective (especially at night) nature. We might have amounted to something, someday, if we'd been born into the same person. As it is, the best he can manage is a concise poop or the occasional overproduced hairball. Meanwhile, the best I can do is this blog.