Here's a poem forthcoming in Same Old Story (CavanKerry Press, 2014), another one I have lumped into the category of "Poems Rejected So Many Times That I've Decided Never to Submit Them to Anyone Ever Again Though I Admit I Still Plan to Include Them in the Collection Which May Be a Mistake." Like "Mrs. Dickinson Waits in the Car," posted a few days ago, this poem drove itself, as I wrote, into a particular form--in this case, not a rhymed structure but a narrative one in which various so-called characters/points of view/imaginary voices react to the title of the poem, which is also the title of an untold story. And I'm sorry that this introduction uses the word "which" three times. Please forgive me.
Girls and Their Cats and Their Stories
was the title of a work I composed last night.
beneath the sweetly chimerical blanket
known as dead-dog sleep.
Grammar mattered in this tale,
and Not was its first word.
The story was priming itself to inhabit
the white space around a silhouette.
Yet in my dream I also glimpsed a picture—
a portrait, perhaps, of Not.
What I saw was a door: dark, paint-streaked;
blue-black as a bruise but dense, as if the painter
had concealed the door’s true color
beneath layer upon layer of evasion.
And after I dreamed this door,
I dreamed the second word.
The word was the.
Now the story was donning its allotted garments;
now grammar, in silks and velvet,
had paced its first long strides
down the broad and noble corridor.
For the is an article of faith
binding itself to weary flesh and ancient cities,
even to the ambiguities of hope—
for, yes, now house reaches out to clutch
the’s small and eager hand.
A house, a door, a negative, an article of faith.
They tried to tell a story.
But the only other word, the final word, was that.
No dash, no question mark
no busybody verb or self-indulgent pronoun.
Neither cat nor girl.
No person from Porlock to blame, as Coleridge did;
not even “and then I woke and learned it was a dream.”
Merely, there was no sentence.
“When I was a girl I had cats.
In our kind of family my cat was all I had.
Knowing that she was going to purr in my ear
as I fell asleep was a comfort and I felt like
at least something might love me.”
“My mother and I invented long
elaborate tales about a cat whose mother
lived on Pointy Head Street and belonged
to an evangelical congregation called
the Church of the Trap Door.”
Dawn’s other story:
“Not the house that
I dreamed of: where I ran up and up
the endless stairs clutching the cat
to my chest so the cat skinners wouldn’t kill it
and then the cat began wailing howling yowling.”
When is a dream not a dream
but the sentence I never wrote?
When is the person from Porlock
the cat scratching at the door? When
is the door the trapdoor, the cat
the cat killer, the sentence
“Girls and Their Cats and Their Stories”
was the name of the work I meant to write
before I was interrupted by the person from Porlock
disguised as a fragment of Not.
As Auden remarks, Coleridge should have tried harder
to finish “Kubla Khan.” As Auden might have remarked,
cats are a sentimental trap, and here Coleridge interrupts
to mention that he himself admires cats from Porlock
though he usually neglects to feed them.
The Khan remains silent.
No one in this poem forgets
that he slices off the heads of cats for sport.
The person from Porlock’s story:
“‘Girls and Their Cats and Their Stories’
was the title of the final poem she wrote
before she fell silent. And I’ll be honest with you:
nobody likes this piece. It’s an irritant,
a flake of grit in the eye of the tiny public
that adored those cheerful verses
about children and Keats and country hi-jinks
that she cranked out so reliably
and published to such moderate acclaim.
This poem . . . I’ll be honest:
it’s a mess, as if she wasted too much time
poring over literary magazines
while running a high fever.
A shame, I’d say,
that this is what we’re stuck with—
a few maundering flippancies;
a hand with a flashlight groping in the dark,
mistaking the cat
for the bathroom switch.”
(Meanwhile, the door remained shut.
The glow of a streetlight picked out the runnels of paint—
blue-black, scratched here and there as if someone
had picked at it with the tines of a fork.
Under the streetlight, the paint
clung to the door like mud.
A smell of cat rose from the gutters;
and now the rain, which had threatened all day,
began to fall, the first slow drops striking
the low roofs, the blank-faced walls, a slop-
shouldered girl who was singing to herself
as she shoved a lame shopping cart
up the crooked brick sidewalk.)