As a stray orange cat—her fur
tattered as an old carpet—
stares at me with wide marble eyes—
pupils dark slits into a cavernous interior
known only to their night vision—
I wonder if members of Felis catus
follow a secret religion and what
place it might ascribe to us.
Do their gods or angels
resemble perfect human forms
of renaissance art, classical antiquity?
Seated in a wicker chair on the terrace
do I appear to this tabby
as a throned deity, my coffee cup
a kantharos, my pen a thyrsus?
Unlikely. As arbiters of their fate
we make fickle Greek divinities
look benevolent—disposed
to ignore them, shoo them away,
occasionally leave scraps
from our feasts at cafés.
They near us in trepidation—
hinds and heads lowered, legs
pressed springs ready at any moment
to leap over a wall—bewildered
as to what sacrifices—a slayed mouse
or bird left on a threshold?—
might appease us, win our charity.
More likely they sympathise with shamans,
admire Egyptian iconography,
represent their gods with animal faces,
especially those dwelling in the ninth heaven,
the Umwelt of all Umwelten. Only feline faith
avows that Sekhmet—the great Lioness—
under the supreme guidance of Mut—
appointed a lynx instead of the jackal Anubis
as psychopomp of cat souls in the afterlife.
And humans (in a variant of Gnosticism),
the fallen angels of this world, will
only be vanquished in the Apocatypse,
except for chosen ‘crazy cat people’—
embodiments of the Virgin Felisophia—
who, in bestowing blessings
on devout felines—treating them
to tuna, bowls of milk, providing equally
for scrawny kittens, pudgy tomcats,
the fierce, the maimed and blind—
prefigure the final transfiguration, the end
of all hierarchy among the cat race.
Previously a dog person—
preferring their candour, naïvety—
I’ve had a change of a heart. A kitten—
emaciated, blind in one eye—appeared
one morning on the front steps.
Feeling for her tragic situation
I tried to give her water and food;
she’d weakened beyond any will
to survive. Though barely ambulant
that afternoon she disappeared
from the garden. I imagine she laid down
her aching body in a tree’s shade,
slowly, painfully passed into night.
The owner of the house charged me
with caring for her semi-adopted stray
named Prince (with the proviso that
I deter others from coming). A la mode,
his coat’s a smooth smoky grey
tailored to a lean muscular body,
a design that could debut
on a Parisian catwalk. (Looks also
play a role in feline fortunes.)
My daughter was always thrilled
by his arrival, the opportunity
to near the foreign creature,
half wild visitor, to feed him
stroke his fur. Already bilingual
in Arabic and English, she acquired
the basics of Felidish. Prince would scale
the door with his claws, peer through
the glass and meow emphatically, that is to say:
I want some food. I want some food now!
Envied for his royal treatment,
he was punished by a puffed up Ragamuffin
we nicknamed Hera. One afternoon he
came to us with a limping left leg,
another, with a gashed bleeding ear.
At times I couldn’t refuse
a clowder, especially when
frail kittens showed up.
At tavernas I’d toss them
crumbs of feta. Distinguishing
the dynamics of their pecking order,
like a minor god or phantom
at the mouth of the underworld
I gleaned their symbolic universe.
When I wrote at the marble table
in the back garden, Prince
would spring onto my lap, plead
for a pat and surrender
to purring bliss, or,
recalling an attendant spirit,
the son of a muse, lie on the ground
a few metres away, an oblique expression
of amity. This small sphinx at rest,
a reminder that each poem
must hide a riddle.
I grew fascinated with these hybrids,
domesticated, fierce. Their padded walk
retractable claws and pointy canines,
capable of piercing the neck of a rat
before being noticed, but they’re no longer
accustomed to hunt or stalk. Dependent on
what townsfolk provide, discard into bins.
When lucky they gather at the port
as fishermen moor their boat,
unpick, and chuck, fry from their nets.
Poised in anticipation, the motley assemblage
leap and swipe the flying fish from the air
jostle over every prize. Their days fluctuate between
alertness in every muscle, organ, whisker, step,
ears perked to the approach of enemy or friend,
and seemingly total relaxation, savasana on the grass
in the afternoon sun, their elastic bodies stretched
beyond retraction, almost melting into molten gold.
I watch a Persian stroll the ridge of a roof—
the ribbon-like tail twirling for balance—
making the most limber funambulist
appear awkward and stiff. I confess
their rhythms and ways have lured me
from the confines of my own domesticity
across the limen that joins our worlds.