Monday, March 23, 2009

Cat, Failing

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Robin Robertson

Cat, Failing

A figment, a thumbed
maquette of a cat, some
ditched plaything, something
brought in from outside:
his white fur stiff and grey,
coming apart at the seams.
I study the muzzle
of perished rubber, one ear
eaten away, his sour body
lumped like a bean-bag
leaking thinly
into a grim towel. I sit
and watch the light
degrade in his eyes.

He tries and fails
to climb to his chair, shirks
in one corner of the kitchen,
cowed, denatured, ceasing to be
anything like a cat,
and there's a new look
in those eyes
that refuse to meet mine
and it's the shame of being
found out. Just that.
And with that
loss of face
his face, I see,
has turned human.

The poet Robin Robertson has found a cat – if that is the word for it – which he has “brought in from outside” into his kitchen. The first impression – his and ours – is rather wispy. We witness a ghost of an animal, vaguely resembling a cat. It is not shown to us as a fully embodied living thing. It is merely a “figment”, and not even a fully-crafted entity, just a “thumbed/ maquette”, like some abandoned sculpture.

Is it alive, when “his white fur” is “stiff and grey/ coming apart at the seams”? It is like a broken doll, abandoned by a child who has lost interest, and love, in it. His face doesn’t even register into the poet’s consciousness as such; it’s a “perished rubber”, the body “a bean-bag” - hardly living descriptions.

For all that, there is a “light” in the animal’s eyes, but it is fading, as he stumbles about in the poet’s kitchen, afraid, as he has cause to be so. As the poet witnesses his deterioration, he also catches sight of something human in the cat as he hides his eyes from him, from shame for being exposed in such dereliction.

It is not till the end of this poem that the poet is able to see in that “perished rubber” of a face some semblance of something human: “loss of face/ his face, I see,/ has turned human.”  

If the poet hasn't been talking about a cat in this sad condition he could well have been drawing a picture of a homeless old man. Observe lines five onwards in the first stanza: "his white fur stiff and grey", "his sour body/lumped like a bean-bag/leaking thinly/into a grim towel"

Similarly, most of the lines in stanza two, except line five, could also be readily ascribed to a man in deplorable conditions.

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