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Poem of the cat

Old poems

Poem of the cat

Maria S. Mendes

 

Poem of the cat
 


Who will open the door for my cat

when I am dead? 

Whenever he can
he runs for the street,
sniffs at the sidewalk
and backtracks,
but when he comes up against the closed door
(poor cat!)
he meows in a desperate
rage.


I let him suffer

because suffering has its rewards

and this he knows well.

When I open the door, he runs towards me
like a woman into the arms of her lover.
I pick him up by the neck and pet him
with a slow gesture,
languidly,
from the top of the head to the tip of his tail.
He stares at me and smiles, with erotic whiskers,
eyes half-closed in ecstasy,
purring.
 

I continue petting him,
languidly,
from the top of his head to the tip of his tail.
He clenches his jaw,
shuts his eyes,
flares his nostrils,
snarls,
snarls swooningly,
nuzzles me
and goes to sleep.

I do not have a cat, but if I did,
who would open the door for him when I died? 

 

António Gedeão, "Poemas/Poems: Uma Antologia Bilingue/A Bilingual Anthology, translations by Christopher Damien Auretta and Marya Berry. Lisbon: Palavrão – Associação Cultural, 2012.

 

This poem should not have been forgotten by those who did forget it, because the existence of people who haven’t forgotten it is an indication that it is worth the trouble of reading it, or would be, if reading it were actually troublesome.

The truth is, reading this poem is no trouble at all, because the tone is colloquial and invocatory from the very start, implying the reader with that cross between a rhetorical question and a cry for help which is, if not common, at least perfectly understandable ("Who will open the door for my cat / when I am dead?"). The language is simple, direct, reminiscent of conversations among pet owners about their animals’ idiosyncrasies ("Whenever he can/ he runs for the street,/ sniffs at the sidewalk/ and backtracks"), although one begins to realise, at a certain point, that this poem may not be about an owner’s concern for his cat’s happiness.

When a soft sadism is introduced ("I let him suffer/ because suffering has its rewards,/ and this he knows well"), and then taken over, in the following stanza, by sensual delight, from the moment the cat returns to his owner "like a woman into the arms of her lover", one is naturally inclined to infer that those "erotic whiskers" might represent something other than a mere pet, all the more so because it is not really common for a cat to nuzzle his owner and then go to sleep, having snarled "swooningly". And then comes the surprising and provocative final statement ("I don’t have a cat"), which abruptly sweeps away all the images that might have occurred to the reader, of an owner delighted with a cat that does not exist after all. If there is no cat, while the owner remains, what shall one conclude from all those tender words dedicated to no animal whatsoever? Who could be that being who needs freedom but does not want it after all, who voluptuously enjoys being caressed by the one who possesses it, who gazes at his owner with "eyes half-closed in ecstasy", who "flares his nostrils" and "snarls" with pleasure?

Some readers might interpret this poem as the expression of a longing to own a cat which is so acute that it results in this incredible feat: an amazingly accurate description of feline reactions to human petting. Other readers might ask themselves: did this bloke have a lover whom he wanted somebody to look after once he departed from this world?

If this was a new poem, I would say I like it not only because it is a tribute to sensuality per se,but also because it does not provide an answer to that question. Given that it is an old poem, I have to concentrate on the initial formula. This poem should not be forgotten by cat lovers, neither should it be forgotten by people who hate cats, because it reminds us that we can see other things in cats, and that we can see cats in other things.

Sara de Almeida Leite 


Sara de Almeida Leite is a full-time professor at ISEC Lisboa. She studied at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), where she started her teaching career in 1995. She has published several books about Portuguese language, as well as articles and papers about good practice in teaching language and literature. She also does occasional work as a translator and as an illustrator, and she has just published fiction for teenagers. She started writing poetry at the age of 18, but she only published it recently and she does not regret it.