she was a dumpster digger
of an undetermined age
a little strumpet left
to cruise the city streets
hurting fighting dirty

when a trumpet-playing hand
in the Salvation Army band
lifted her up from misery
took her to shelterland

“Hallelujah” was the name we
gave her when we took her home
we cleaned her double paws
we fed her fish and love and
just plain “Lulu” she became

not cute not pretty she is
small and oddly beautiful
a true fur person of droll
asymmetrical black markings
on a fluffy coat dull gold
strangely short-legged
with wise yellow eyes
mooting the question whether
felines really do have souls

since winter’s come she has
the job of watching snow

leaving her customary station
on the piano by the metronome
she jumps to a wide windowsill
as soon as flakes begin to fall

there she remains a sentinel
until snow stops she simply
stares quite statuesquely still

it’s harder now with getting old
yet there’s a grit about her
watching there—like a survivor
pondering a once-known time
or place where it was very cold

71 responses »

  1. Oh so wonderful! What does she do in the summer besides sleep? Does she chase some mousies, “Love to eat them mousies. Mousies what I love to eat.” I can recite the rest but might offend some people. I don’t know who wrote it. Do you know the rest? Doesn’t offend me. She is a cat after all. Meow~

    • Yes! I remember that song….’Love to eat them mousies…” It was inspired by a cartoon of B. Kliban whose wonderful jokes and drawings of cats were all the rage back in the seventies, as I recall. I know I bought a lot of greeting cards with Kliban’s funny cats on them, back then. Lulu is indeed a huntress, but she does it for the trophy not the food. It has happened that I came to my favorite chair one morning only to find a poor little decapitated mouse waiting for me there, a gift from Lulu.

  2. This is such a lovely form to give praise to your beloved pet. I wish I was such a poet as you, and could do such honour to mine!

    The line ‘strangely short legged’ reminded me of a little Scottie that Siddy met in the park a couple of days ago. Her father described her as ‘being behind the door when legs were assigned’. Her legs were so short she made Siddy look tall and elegant!

  3. For whatever reason, Lulu as a cat quickly came to mind within the first few lines. As a cat person, it was easy to see her sitting in the window watching the snow … but the way you entered her mind at the end, was not only excellent, but it also was a twist I didn’t expect. Well done!

    • Animals are so speechless, at least when it comes to human language, that most people who love them can’t help imagining what they’re thinking and what they would say if they could talk. That’s probably why they are the perfect characters for cartoons like Snoopy and Garfield and so many others. Maybe, in the end, as they observe us humans, it’s a good thing the beasties can’t talk! Thanks, Frank.

  4. It’s pouring down outside here with a summer storm, and I’m halfway through reading this when my cat jumps onto my desk, wet and bedraggled, and “stares quite statuesquely still” out the window – like I’m meant to do something about the weather. And when I got to the end of your poem I burst into tears! Isn’t that silly!!!

  5. Such a beautiful portrait.

    I’d love to have a cat, except they are, to Ariel, mortal enemies. She even insisted that I hang a No Cats Zone sign somewhere in the garden, in case cat’s can read.

    • I can sympathize with Ariel’s point of view, since the average cat may weigh three or four times more than her delicate self, and, of course, she’s a Princess. It’s classic for cats and dogs to be enemies. We once had a family dog who killed cats, for sport. As an adult, though, I’ve always had both dog and cats together and they got along fine, even affectionately. Do you suppose that’s because they were all mutts and moggies and just grateful for a home?

      I’m not sure if cats can read. Open a book on your table or lap, though, and they like to stroll over the pages. Thanks, Prospero.

      • Ariel likes to act tough, but in truth she can’t even kill a moth. Not that she’s a pacifist, or anything. And even though cats may not read, dogs definitely do: Ariel is currently studying the maps and diagrams in War and Peace.

  6. What a fascinating life Miss Lulu leads now that she was rescued so long ago. A perfect feline to watch and guard, only to have her sister humans wonder what could she possibly be thinking as she looks out the window – perhaps her next meal, or maybe she is just glad she is inside staying warm. Whatever it might be, I loved your beautiful tribute to Lulu!

    • Your Mickey, in cat heaven, is probably romping around with several dear ones I have known. It is so hard to lose a pet, and those who have never loved and lost one simply don’t understand—it’s a member of the family! I have another cat, besides this Lulu. His name is Beau and he’s about 20 years old. He’s been at death’s door several times, and though they say cats have nine lives, I think he’s on his twelfth or thirteenth life! He’s half-blind, half-deaf, thin as a rail and arthriticl, but he has a good appetite and attitude. He’s not sick,he’s just very old. I get a kick out of him, and hope he just passes away painlessly in his sleep one of these days. I will miss him terribly, but we’ve had a good time together. Have you considered getting another cat?

      • Wishing Beau all the best…and all the ones in cat heaven sleep without being swooped upon by those annoying birds!! Cynthia last year we downsized from a house into an apartment so don’t believe we’ll get another cat. We had a two week holiday in Turkey and were thrilled to see so many cats everywhere! They are well fed and looked after and the friendliest I’ve ever seen. I think all cat lovers share a bond

  7. This poem paints an evocative image of the sentinel cat on the widow sill – and one does wonder what they are thinking when t hey take up such a pose!. Thank you for this enjoyable quiet picture. I have a friend who recently adopted a wild cat – she says that it takes a while for them to domesticate. It sounds as though Lulu did so effortlessly.

    • Actually, Lulu wasn’t wild, in the sense of being a feral cat. She was a stray kitten in the city, definitely without papers. I have always had a dog, and when my mother died I took her two cats in….and decided I liked cats as well! All of my pets have been adopted from shelters, so they were the un-fancy kind— mutts and moggies, as they say—but all well-loved, well-behaved (eventually, with training) and wonderful companions.

  8. Oh, goodness, Cynthia, I read this yesterday and started to comment, but wanted to think more and then went on with other things. But this is visually very vivid (no alliteration intended). At first I thought you were writing about a homeless woman and girded myself up for something quite miserable, then I realized it was about a stray dog until the line about the cat, at which point I settled down with the cat-ness of the poem. At each of the points when I was thinking the wrong thing, I had a very clear image of the person or dog.But now I have a clear image of the snow and the window and the still cat watching. She’s probably thinking ‘heh, don’t have to be out in that…’

    • So interesting, Lisa. You are not the first person who read this and saw a homeless person, and also a dog. Maybe It’s because I used words/images which aren’t often applied to cats? I don’t know, but I always marvel at how something I’ve written might strike another person. In fact, this cat started out as a kitten, in the city, eating out of dumpsters, and maybe my imagery brought “homeless in the city” to mind, more than “feral in the forest.” Anyway, the habit of anthropomorphizing our pet animals seems to be a universal one….and your own projection of what she may probably be thinking–being glad not to be out in the snow—is as good as any!

      • You know, Konrad Lorenz, the animal behaviorist, said that the animals were not like us–we were very like them! This of jackdaws that follows shim around. But I think he’s right. So sometimes simple assumptions about domesticated animals (safety, warmth, connection) are probably true. It is interesting how the poem’s meaning so depends on what the reader brings to it. I have a poem that seemed devastating to me once I knew what it was about (I don’t always with poetry; no clue sometimes) that a friend of mine found not exactly cheery, but hopeful. I remember at the time thinking that was what poetry was about–a voice and an ear and an interpreting mind. So glad to read another of yours! Hope Lulu is curled somewhere rather than in a window!

  9. We use to have cats at home, but have not for several years. When we moved to New Mexico the dogs so outnumbered cats we were not comfortable getting any new ones. Then we got Juneau, a stray dog that was starving when she came and put her nose in Ethel’s hand, startling Ethel, as she opened the front yard gate. She is not a cat lover, unfortunately. Still, this is an absolutely delightful poem, Cynthia. A story poem that dances from beginning to end.

    • How nice to find your comment here this morning, Thomas. You certainly know story poems about animals, wild ones as well as those that come with having cats and/or dogs as part of the family. I especially enjoy yours about geese and crows. Coming from shelters, or just straying in one day— have always been the ways I’ve adopted them. Our relationships to “dumb” animals say a lot about us humans, I think and the temptation to anthropomorphize them is great. I would wager that T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is still read—for pleasure, not on academic assignment— more than any of his other works!

  10. Tears in my eyes after reading your poem, Cynthia. I wonder, may be she is watching the snow because it is a threat. She is not sure that you are all safe with the snow so close, and she is acting as a guardian.

    • Acting as a guardian, is also a possibility. I wonder what animals can remember. They live in the present moment, and I doubt they think of the future, but they do seem to base some of their actions on past experience. And this cat does sometimes seem to have the “personality” of a dog, so your conjecture about what she’s thinking might be right! Thank you very much, Inese.

  11. I’ve always loved this one (I learned the word dumpster from it). Lulu springs so vividly out of the page… sorry, screen as a personality complete unto herself. It’s an important job keeping tabs on the falling of snow.

    • I could have wished to contribute a word to your vocabulary more lovely than ‘dumpster’, Hilary; that gives me a good chuckle. Interesting that you use the word ‘personality’ for Lulu—as I do, too—since I always think of the non- human animals I know as persons….fur persons.

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