Long Island Writing Project
By Mark Jackett*
In her dotage, our cat grows profound.
She sits close to our faces,
stares into us with her jaundiced eyes,
stretches out one paw in our direction.
"These are my people. Family is all
that matters. As long as we are
together, that is enough."
She starts the night in bed with us,
but can't sleep, all her unfulfilled
dreams gnawing at her, waking
her from her restless slumber.
She stalks the silent house looking for her youth.
"Remember how you always thought, when I stared into
an empty corner, that I was staring at
dead people? You were right."
Sometimes she curses at us, chastising us for
not filling her food fast enough. "Where the hell
have you been? I'm dying, dammit!" She gulps the
drips the second the shower stops, like the water is her life
escaping down the drain. But it's alright. She's in pain, so we
forgive her hostile idiosyncrasies. Sometimes
she sits in the wet shower, not drinking, just waiting.
She wants us to know she goes in peace.
"I forgive you all the times you tripped over me as
I sat in the absolute center of the kitchen floor.
I forgive you all the times you locked me in
the basement, not wanting my rattling of the closet
to awaken you at 5 a.m. when you'd just rocked the
babies back to sleep at 2.
I forgive you all the times you yelled at me when
I threw up. I can't blame you; I wouldn't want to
clean up that mess either, especially off the carpet."
She anticipates her imminent mortality.
"Soon," she says, "when I stare into an empty corner,
I will be staring at myself."
On April 1 of 2015, I happened to see a tweet from the YA author Jason Reynolds sharing his poem for the first day of #NaPoWriMo, National Poetry Writing Month. At that point, I was very familiar with National Poetry Month and National Novel Writing Month, but I did not know that the two had been combined. I quickly cranked out a poem and posted it, and continued to do so every day over the course of the month.
Looking back at my notebook, I see that on April 27th of that year I wrote the line “In her dotage, my cat grows profound.” I have some additional notes on the page, and then on the next two pages a full draft of the poem that would eventually become “We Named Her Karma.” My first title was “Yellow,” referring to her eyes, written in green ink to contrast with the original black. I did some other revisions in green, and then some additional revisions that don’t appear in my notebook, so they must have only occurred on the computer, before getting to the final draft. I must give credit to my wife, Bevin, because I know that I made some cuts from the original draft based on her feedback.
After April of 2015, I gathered the poems from #NaPoWriMo that I thought were worth anything and started submitting them. Like all writers, in any genre, should do, I read some work from the publications that I was submitting to rather than just submitting blindly. In July of 2016, I received an email, which I saw on my phone while I was Upstate visiting my mom, telling me that Oberon Poetry Magazine had accepted my poem for publication. According to my wife, I screamed, “like a little girl” upon seeing this email. This is my first poetry publication. My poem appeared in Oberon’s fourteenth annual publication. They had a lovely publication party at Gallery North in Setauket in October, at which I was honored to read my poem. Standing in front of a group of strangers, hearing them laugh, seeing them tear up, and talking to them afterward, was one of the highlights of my life. I wrote a poem. It got published. People laughed and cried. What could be better than that?
A couple of final points. First, I submitted three poems for the Oberon Poetry Prize, and the one that was selected for publication (though not the prize winner) is my least favorite of the three. But hey, you never know what people are going to like. Lastly, while one might think so from this poem, I am not a “cat person.” That cat was a pain in my ass. But because I was writing regularly, every day doing the work of crafting random thoughts into a coherent form that could be called a poem, I managed to put something together that at least some people thought was worthy of being read by others. I hope you think so, too. Enjoy.
*From Mark: Thank you to the editors of Oberon Poetry Magazine, where this poem first appeared.
LIWP Guest Bloggers
Each month, a LIWP teacher will share some thoughts on teaching, writing, and life! If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please contact Kathy Sokolowski at email@example.com