Ode to My Cat


My desk is littered with books by Edgar Allen Poe and T.S. Eliot, but I’m actually thinking about my cat.  Writers and cats seem to have a natural fit.  Mio spends part of the day in my office where he sleeps on my work table and also has a custom made bed in a basket, including a mocha and raspberry pillow with bolsters that match the rest of the décor.  I usually have to work around Mio because he tries to jump in my lap while I’m writing or reading.  I’ve learned how to take notes, drink coffee, answer the phone and pet him with one hand, and I know I can’t put my mug to the right of the computer because he hops up and stretches out in the desk cubbyhole so he’ll knock it over.  Mio meows if I don’t give him enough attention, a little bit like my husband.

I’m not the only writer who partnered with a cat.  W.H. Auden, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Colette, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac (“Holding up my purring cat to the moon I sighed,” American Haiku, 1959) and Mark Twain all appreciated cat company.   Ernest Hemingway loved cats too.  Indeed, 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) descendants of his cat Snowball still live at the Hemingway House and Museum in Key West.  I don’t notice any extra toes on Mio; just a few scars on his ears from having it out with his brother Oscar over food, territory, Mom’s bed and various neighborhood goings-on I am not privy too.  Oscar doesn’t spend as much time in my office though sometimes he’ll sit in my lap or bird watch from my window.

I’m not sure what led Edgar Allen Poe to write his short story “The Black Cat” where the narrator becomes obsessed with his cat Pluto, and in a drunken rage, he gouges out the cat’s eye; Pluto survives, maddening the narrator even more so he retaliates by hanging him.  Like a phantasm, another stray cat appears, this one with a white streak over his breast, and out of pity/guilt, the narrator adopts him.  But life is not feline bliss.  He resents the new cat and when he trips over him in the cellar (And what cat owner hasn’t done that?), he grabs an axe to kill the cat, plunging the blade into his wife’s head instead.  So, to get rid of the corpse, he walls her up in the cellar and when the police come to investigate, everything is going so swimmingly that the murderer brags about the construction of the house, particularly the solid walls in the cellar.  Rap, rap goes his cane and just then, everyone hears a muffled broken cry “like the sobbing of a child” which  turns into a scream coming from behind the wall.  The detectives tear down the bricks and lo and behold, horror of horrors, the wall falls and “The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators.  Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman.  I had walled the monster up within the tomb!”

One wonders how Mr. Poe came up with these ideas.

Alas, I don’t have such cat issues though occasionally one of us will shut Mio in a closet,  only to hear a feeble “Come Get Me, Come Get Me!” cry which brings one of us running.

Cats make good workmates.  If you can get them to stay in one spot.  They’re quiet, take long naps and don’t mind if you spend part of your day pondering your brilliance.  Indeed, they have all the time in the world for your literary genius as long as dinner is served at 4:30.  I must admit a little sheepishly that Mio’s schedule does impact by productivity.  It seems I’m constantly shifting in my chair, petting him, lifting him up on a table so I can bend over my papers, trotting downstairs to let him outside, not to mention sometimes he doglegs (!) to his bowl to finagle a quick snack before he’s banished to the yard.  Then, if I see him near a fledgling, I have to run out and shoo the bird and Mio away.

Owning a cat is actually quite exhausting.  As any cat owner knows, we get more exercise than you would think.

I have had many adored pets over the years.  Dogs and crabs, turtles and fish, a Venus flytrap named Fred.  Nothing more exotic.  But to my cats Spicy, Misty, Oh La, and now Mio and Oscar, a tip of the cap and an extra bowl of milk in thanks for the terrific friendships. So glad you have nine lives.  (Wish I did.)

I believe cats to be spirits come to earth.  A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.  Jules Verne.


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