Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For people who love cats

This blog may need some comic relief. So, here is a poem by me that started out as a parody of Emily Dickinson. But I could not really get the edginess with which she often goes against the meter she has set up. And so, I ended up with a poem "in the style of Dickinson":

There is a corner in my room
where Cat prefers to pee -
and then he yawns and walks away -
leaving the mess to me.

And as a wipe I contemplate
the nature of this act -
was this a form of vengeance or
simply a lack of tact?

But then I look into his eyes
and in his whiskered face -
I gather up my soap and cloth -
and sigh - and rest my case.


Heika said...

Ulrich, I love your cat poem, particularly the Emily like first stanza. Rilke has a poem about a black cat, I'll have to look it up and see how it fits with the others you have discussed here and, of course, with your own.

Ulrich said...

Here's wonderful cat poem by Alastair Reid, who was also prominently mentiond in the thread on the awful German language.

I've discovered the pleasure of living with cats late in life and have become interested in cat lovers through the ages--a very interesting bunch. Here are some of the names I've come across:

The Prophet, Leonardo da Vinci, Hemingway, Mark Twain, Théophile Gautier, Lenin.

Poets who wrote very affectionate cat poems (and loved cats, by implication): Theodor Storm, Baudelaire, Torquato Tasso, Colette, T.S. Eliot, Alastair Reid.

Marlene said...

I love your cat poem too. And what a pretty cat picture.

miriam b said...

What a droll poem. Was it inspired by the beautiful cat in the photo?

Though I don't actually anthropomorphize my cats, I do tend to give most of them human names. The current group are called Lionel, Dewey, Iris and Dinah. Iris is so named because she has rainbow-like markings: grey tabby stripes interspersed with orange ones, and one completely orange hind leg. This pattern is known as "torbie": a portmanteau of "tabby" and "tortie" (tortoiseshell).

I've been surrounded by cats since childhood.

Ulrich said...

@miriam b: Yes, it was. And yes, we give our cats people's names, too. The one in the picture is Christopher, the first cat I ever had--I felt "Christopher Flemming" had a very nice ring to it (he was 15 when the picture was taken). Christopher just didn't make it to the age of twenty, to our great sorrow. After a series of strokes 6 weeks ago, he became blind and disoriented, and after a heart-wrenching discussion, we felt it best to have him put gently to sleep (in our house).

Ulrich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ulrich said...

@miriam b: One more thing: Yes, one shouldn't anthropomorphize animals. But that doesn't mean that animals do not have feelings--as a pet owner, I must say that the notion, voiced by some (not you, I'm sure!), that they don't seems strange.

Here's an amazing story. It's important to know that the reintroduction of Christian into wild was done by professionals in Kenya, upon the reommendation of the people who did the movie Born Free.

Incidentally, the only "person" in the video known to have died an unnatural death is the older man who appears briefly--he was killed by bandits later.

Ulrich said...

...and I wish there was an easy way of sharing pictures on a blog: I'd love to see one of Iris!

miriam b said...

...and I wish I were more adept with computers. I learned to use them on a "need to know" basis.

mac said...

Miriam and Ulrich, even when we do not anthropomorphize our pets, we still feel them as a big influence in our day to day life. Not until my cat Abbie died did I realize how many trips I cancelled or foreshortened because I wanted to stay with her or come home to her! And you know what? I'm feeling pretty good about that. I enjoyed her sweet, shy temper and her soft, warm fur. In fact, I miss it so much......

Ulrich said...

Mac and Miriam: Would it be an unacceptable anthropomorphism if we talked about the "personality" of a cat (or any other animal)?. In the days when we had only a dog, and one that was sick, a well-meaning friend tried to console us by saying "you just get another one--they are all the same". Not only is that not true for dogs, it's also clearly not rue for cats.

Christopher was the last among our first generation of cats to die. Between that and the current "second" generation, we've had about 12 cats altogether (not counting those who established camp outside w/o ever setting a paw inside). And I must say, not two of them ever had the same personality, if we mean by that a collection of distinguishable behavioral traits that can be observed--I don't think this is an illegitimate anthropomorphism. Some are bossy, some are shy, some seek human company more than others, some like the outdoors, some don't etc.

Christopher BTW was the sweetest, most guileless cat we ever had. I never forget the sight of him staring mournfully at a dish that was taken away from him by a more resolute cat: The most aggressive act he was capable of was putting a paw, ever so gently, on the head of the offender, who, of course, was totally unimpressed and went about his business, i.e. eating Christopher's food, unperturbed.

The NYT Times Magazine had an article about rearch into animals' "feelings" that described personality differences in the above sense across many species, including octopusses, who can be more or less shy!

miriam b said...

Without question, cats (and other animals as well, as far as I've observed) do have distinct personalities. Anyone who says that pets take on the personality traits of their owners is full of baloney. Given the proper care and affection and humane treatment, they develop according to their own "programs".

Just using my current cats as examples:

Lionel: The Cat Who Walks By Himself. His dignified mien conceals a somehwat fearful nature.

Dewey: Affectionate almost to the point of a dog-like obsequiousness - but very lovable.

Iris: Dewey's sister. Calls the shots, is the alpha cat if there actually is such a post for felines. Frighteningly intelligent.

Dinah: Painfully shy toward strange humans and toward other cats, though she and Lionel have been seen play-wrestling on occasion! Very affectionate and trusting with human family.

And BTW, some cat lovers characterize tortoiseshells as somewhat zany, and orange cats as laid back. I can't imagine how coat color can be connected with personality. Over the years, however,I've lived with two tortoiseshells who were a little kooky, and several orange cats who were placid. One was a female, which is unusual, and she was the exception, as she always seemed on edge.

Ulrich said...

@miriam: Did you also observe that females (even when spayed) seem, by and large, to be much smarter or more alert than (neutered) males? We find the latter ones to be more often than not big, if very lovable, goofs that don't even notice that they will be shipped to the vet for a visit when the carrier stands right there, whereas the females go into hiding as soon as they hear the tinkle of the door, let alon see the carrier.

miriam b said...

Ulrich, I couldn't agree more. The females just seem more watchful in general. Maybe it's connected in some way with the maternal instinct, which I imagine persists in spayed cats.

In my experience, females are much more creative than males when it comes to committing mischievous acts. I've even seen teamwork in these situations.

mac said...

@miriam b: I completely agree with you about the more alert females. Let us know about the teamwork, please! I love cat anecdotes. On the other hand, a friend sent me a uTube link to some cat videos, and all of a sudden it turned into a minor porn site! I guess I turned it off in time, I haven't received any weird spam.

Ulrich said...

@miriam b: I'm adding my voice to mac's: please tell us about the team work. I also like to hear interesting cat stories. And didn't one of you have leviating cats?

miriam b said...

OK, ulrich and mac, here are a few scenes I've observed:

Cat A unrolls toilet paper. Cat B, sitting on floor, starts industrious shredding procedure.

Cats A & B stage fake fight. Cat C comes over to investigate. A & B (both females) bop him playfully on the head.

Cat A climbs into large paper grocery bag. Cat B sits on the open end, trapping Cat A, who seems to enjoy this.

Cat C (male) pees in litter pan, leaves without covering. Cat A (female), looking seriously affronted, enters the pan and ostentatiously digs litter over the offending area.

As for the levitation: Maybe I was exaggerating in using this word, but when I had a bat loose in my bedroom, one of the cats jumped from a standing start on my bed almost to the ceiling and struck a fatal blow to the bat.

Ulrich said...

@miriam: I chuckled at all of them, but my favorite is the one with the litter pan--we have never observed any behavior like this with our cats.

The most amazing story I can tell is that of the flying cat: One of our pitch-black males once marched along the eave (ca. 10' above ground) and when my wife called him, he looked down and, rather than retracing his steps, jumped into the air, arms and legs spread out (to increase air resistance, I guess), and sailed down like superman.

Marlene said...

I love all of these cat stories, and despite the fact that this is a very sad poem, I thought this was an appropriate spot for it.

A Cat in an Empty Apartment
Wislawa Szymborska
Die? One does not do that to a cat.
Because what's a cat to do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls.
Caress against the furniture.
It seems that nothing has changed here,
but yet things are different.
Nothing appears to have been relocated,
yet everything has been shuffled about.
The lamp no longer burns in the evenings.

Footsteps can be heard on the stairway,
but they're not the ones.
The hand which puts the fish on the platter
is not the same one which used to do it.

Something here does not begin
at its usual time.
Something does not happen quite
as it should
Here someone was and was,
then suddenly disappeared
and now is stubbornly absent. All the closets were peered into.
The shelves were walked through.
The rug was lifted and examined.
Even the rule about not scattering
papers was violated.

What more is to be done?
Sleep and wait.

Let him return,
at least make a token appearance.
Then he'll learn
that one shouldn't treat a cat like this.
He will be approached
as though unwillingly,
on very offended paws.
With no spontaneous leaps or squeals at first.

miriam b said...

Ulrich, I loved the image of your black cat doing an impression of Superman or perhaps a flying squirrel. You said that he spread out his ARMS and legs. Are you anthropomorphizing in spite of yourself?

I notice, BTW, that all four of my cats will dip a front paw (hand?) into a waterdish so as to ripple the surface of the water and thus indicate its level. The two males will sometimes leave the paw in the water while drinking, then leave wet footprints on the floor.

Ulrich said...

@marlene: A really lovely poem. Although I have never seen a cat in this situation, the description rings absolutely true: That's how a cat would behave. I think I have to add Wislawa Szymborska to my list of cat lovers--it's short on women anyway.

@miriam: Oops, yes, against my will. Goes to show to what degree I actually think of them as little persons (when I call home on a trip, I always ask: How are the little people doing?)

Re. water dish: Some of our cats do exactly the same--I never knew why they would create those ripples. And yes, the male ones, big doofuses that they are, sometimes do leave their paws in the dish

miriam b said...

The pragmatic and fastidiiouslittle females will sometimes give the water dish a little nudge so that the surface ripples without their having to touch it.

I agree about the poem. I once adopted a cat which had belonged to a man who had to go into a nursing home on rather short notice, and the man's sister told us how forlorn and confused the cat had been.

mac said...

I enjoyed all the lovely cat stories above. When our Abbie was about 5 years old, I watched her do a, to me, unusual thing. I had put her dish with dry food close to an overhanging cabinet. While eating, some of the pellets fell out and rolled under the overhang. She stopped her breakfast, and with her right paw retrieved all the wayward pieces, eating them first before going back to her dish!

fikink said...

I do so wish we could embed photos of our cats. Mr Fikink and I have had cats all of our 37 years together and when we would have disagreements, the cats would run between us pleading for us not to fight. We have stayed together many times because neither one of us would agree to relinquish one of the cats to the other. Instead, the cats had free reign of the house and we would abide in separate rooms until we were adult enough to reconcile.

Marlene said...

Hi, I loved this story about the cat diplomats. My husband and I have several cats, but they are no help if we have arguments. They just run for cover. I wish you could embed photos as well. I would like to see what these cat counselors look like.

fikink said...

marlene, look at this funny thing that happened (and what struck me at 3 a.m.):
I was writing of the cats and cognizant of the idea that cats own you, you don't own them - and combined that with the idea that when we fought, we would relinquish the house to them. So, indeed, I meant they were free to rule the house while we retired to our respective corners. But the idiom is not "free reign" it is "free rein," as one would control a horse (or not). So what do you call what I (inadvertently) did? Is this an accidental pun or is there another word for this phenomenon? (Ulrich, I bet there is a word in German for this.)

miriam b said...

fikink, I noticed that immediately and thought: Freudian slip! If there's a German word for this phenomenon, I'd love to learn it. What say you, Ulrich?

miriam b said...

I have just Googled and come up with what Freud himself called it: Fehlleistung (lit., "faulty action").

Ulrich said...

@miriam b: You are absolutely right--a Freudian slip is Freudsche Fehlleistung in German.

The only question is this: Does finkink's slip qualify? I.e. can we see deeply-seated anxieties or her unconscious at work here? :-)

miriam b said...

Yes, Ulrich, I also wonder whether something more significant is going on. Alarmingly, there's evidence that she is anthropomorphizing the cats. I can almost picture them myself, with their little gold crowns and ermine flea collars.

@fikink: You mentioned on the xword blog that mr. fikink is a pharmacist. Maybe he can recommend some OTC remedy. I don't mean to be intrusive. I''m just trying to help.

fikink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mac said...

Since we are still talking about cats, I have another little story:
About 7 weeks ago my husband saw a small ferile cat dragging something he thought was a mouse under a small bush on our upper terrace. When the can streaked off we looked under the bush and found 2 tiny kittens. I called my Pilates instructor who is an animal rescuer, and she came and picked them up. She nursed them and fed them every 3 hours around the clock, until another can had 4 kittens and took the two under her wings (sorry). I saw them again last week, and a friend who was there is taking both of them.

Ulrich said...

@mac: We can talk about cats forever! I wonder why the cat abandoned the kittens--this seems so unlikely, given what we have seen.

fikink said...

Ulrich, thanks for being so gracious. I did have a rather lengthy post here regarding our cats' names and nicknames over the years and then decided it was just too weird and too chatty and deleted it. Probably a wise move as both miriam and I got into trouble last night for being too frivolous on Rex's blog.
(miriam, maybe Mr. Fikink can find us an OTC product for that!)

miriam b said...

Has anyone here lived with a cat with unusual food preferences? Just today I left a pot of cilantro on the table, and Iris started chewimg on the leaves. I tasted it to make sure that I hadn't bought catnip by mistake. I've also seen her nibble on my aloe vera, which is very odd, as it has a horrid taste.

I once had a cat who loved broccoli. Another one loved bread. I learned this the hard way, as I had left some homemade bread (Yes, I'm one of those.) out to cool, lzter catching Leo in the act of making serious inroads on one of the loaves.

I've known cats who liked melons, though I don't think that's unusual. And many cats like cooked tomatoes, which is good, as it tends to acidify their urine and help guard agaimst the formation of bladder stones. Sorry if this is TMI.

Ulrich said...

@miriam b: The very first cat we had found us through the woods--we called her Miss Kitty, and she started us on our love affair with cats. She was crazy about baked goods, especially blueberry muffins, and if you didn't give them to her voluntarily, she tried to bat them out of your hands. She also loved corn chips, but a preference for salty stuff doesn't seem to be so unusual.

Our resident pitch-black male, PeeWee, goes bonkers over cookie dough, provided it's made with butter. When my wife bakes, she can hardly keep him off the counter. And Jenny, Christopher's (the cat in the picture) "little sister", loved spaghetti--it was a sight to see the little worms disappear fast into her mouth--might have something to do with the tomatoe preference you mention.

fikink said...

We have always had male cats and to a man (yes, Miriam, I know) they loved spaghetti sauce. One of our cats, Oz, likes fresh ears of corn which are the only things he actually jumps onto a table to nibble on if I set them there - he likes the husks.

mac said...

Abbie indeed loved melon, and before she became lactose intolerant, she would eat/lap up the drags of my cereal bowl in the morning. One day my husband and I were having this cereal in bed, and Abbie sat opposite, watching us. We suddenly realised that she probably thought we were eating her breakfast!

miriam b said...

I've just adopted an adult spayed female cat from my vets' office. I know nothing of her history. She's a sizeable gray cat with randomly located beige splotches and 6 toes on each foot. Though she had a name when she arrived, I'm changing it to Polly Dactyl (Polly for short). After a week spent in a secluded room, she's now being encouraged to nmeet the other cats. So far, so good.

Ulrich said...

@miriam: Good for you! All of our cats have also been adopted or found us through the woods bordering our house.

As to 6 toes, one of our vets has an office cat (male) that's also 6-toed. I still laugh when he jumps on the counter to get petted and lands on his sizable feet. His name is rather prosaic, though, Oscar I think.

miriam b said...

All 5 of our cats were found or adopted as well - the other four as kittens. I made a special point of adopting a grown cat because they're often harder to place than youngsters.

Laraine Flemming said...

I never get tired of cat poems particularly yours.