Thursday, October 01, 2009

"The Cat" by Galway Kinnell

The Cat
by Galway Kinnell

The first thing that happened
was that somebody borrowed the Jeep,
drove fifty feet, went off the road.
The cat may have stuck a tire iron
or baseball bat into the steering wheel.
I don't know if it did or didn't.
I do know—I don't dare say it aloud—
when the cat is around something goes wrong.
Why doesn't our host forewarn us? Well,
he tries. He gives each guest on arrival
a list of instructions about the cat.
I never was able to read mine,
for the cat was watching when I got it,
so I stuck it in my pocket to read later,
but the cat saw me, leapt at me, nearly
knocked me down, clawed at the pocket,
would have ripped my clothes off
if I had not handed it over.
The guest book contains the name
of the young woman who was my friend,
who brought me here in the first place,
who is the reason I have come back,
to find out what became of her.
But no one would tell me anything.
Except tonight, my final evening,
at dinner, the host says, "There is
someone ... someone ... a woman ...
in your life ..." I know he means her,
but why the present tense? "Whom you have in ..."
The next word sounds like "blurrarree"
but it could be "slavery." "Well, yes,"
I say. "Yes, but where is the cat?"
"It is an awful thing you are doing,"
he goes on. "Quite awful." "But who?"
I protest. "What you are talking about?"
"The cat," he says. "When you lock her up
she becomes dangerous." "The cat?
What cat?" I remember the kitten I saved
out of the burlap sack when I was seven,
I was fathering or mothering her, my father
or mother said, "Stop smothering it."
Suddenly an electric force grabs my feet.
I see it has seized the host too—
he is standing up, his hands are flopping
at his sides. "What is it?" I whisper.
"I'm washing the dishes," he says.
"O my God," I think.
"I'm washing the dishes," he repeats.
I realize he is trying to get the cat to believe
he is not in a seizure but washing the dishes.
If either of us lets on about the seizure
I know for certain the cat will kill us both.

from When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone
© 1990 by Galway Kinnell
published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.