In her musings on the dying of the beloved, long-lived family cat, Ava Haymon carries us across time and space: to Greece, with thoughts of sex and loss and age, then home again into a crawl space under a house, framing it all in love. There is humor—our relation to all this seems sometimes foolish—but it is, after all, what is most beautiful in our everyday lives, as her lyric voice makes clear. Ava’s free verse is always clear: her line breaks sense the threat of time passing, the ever-present danger that love will go; but then it doesn’t quite. The clarity of her work comes from the deep wisdom of years as daughter, wife, and mother in a family that seems simple on the surface but, like all families, has complexities we come to know only with age.
Ava’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and chapbooks. Her three volumes of poetry, The Strict Economy of Fire, Kitchen Heat, and Why the House is Made of Gingerbread, are all available from LSU Press.
It’s not just a cat dying
this time. It’s Love
itself, impaled in this blind
arthritic flea-bit female,
whose last hold on her destiny
stares out green dinner-plate eyes
that do not blink. The cat has not blinked
in all her eighteen years.
Our last pet — it’s come to this.
Love dribbles out, flesh
driven old and mad with it —
the boy gone off, the girl
grown — the dogs,
the other cats, countless fish,
the burned toad who died of a hug,
the ones that turned bottom up,
the ones that ran away, that ran
in front of cars, gerbils, a hamster,
a pair of ducks that never learned to fly
but waddled out of the yard (when
the steady vee of wings beating north
was seen in the sky) and into the mouth
of the neighbor’s hound.
We traveled together to the spring near Eleusis,
where Aphrodite bathed to renew her virginity
after every act of love. I splashed the cold water
on my neck, drizzled some down the front of my jeans
when no one was looking. The daughter back home
heard the stories from this place
her mother left her for,
and when kittens were born
—without labor, without home,
without owner or welcome —
in the snaky damp crawl space
under the house, the dark
where no good child would ever go,
she named them Hermes, Hades, Aphrodite.
Aphrodite, born without invitation,
a feral thing. The nameless mother chose
to set down her litter here, where we wanted
pedigrees, wanted to choose our pets,
abort the mistakes, spay the extras,
wanted to plan which animals to feed,
to care about, to pay the vet
outrageous fees for, none covered by insurance.
Hades ran away, after his mother,
and with her entered the realm of darkness,
and Hermes stayed, the favorite, quick and charming
killer of squirrels, the messenger, and
Aphro, well, she was dumb and we made fun of her
and she followed her clever brother around
and looked confused, but she grew long hair,
soft and gray and white as dove’s wings,
and was gloriously, pointlessly beautiful.
When she curled on the deck in the sun,
a background to frame her
would rush forward for the honor.
She’s still dumb and her generic cat food
costs fifteen dollars a sack, and this morning
she walked off the side of the porch
and fell into the aspidistra border.
We’ve had four mourning ceremonies
complete with songs, because we keep thinking
she’s dying, or will soon. While we sit
for breakfast at our small table
with only two plates and not much to talk about,
Aphrodite, the back yard behind her
a graveyard of other pets, pulls
her front feet under, wraps her balding tail
around them like it’s a mantle of finest wool.
Turns her head toward us, locks her eyes
in our direction as though she could see,
and does not blink, and will not look away.
From KITCHEN HEAT (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge), 2006.