I suppose most people long to be where they aren’t. I grew up in Glendale, CA, which is about twenty minutes from Hollywood. However, what I really wanted was to live in the woods. The picture below is of the first apartment building that I remember living in (although those blue panels were brown in the 70s). Our apartment unit was the one in the very back, on the second floor. At the time, it was the only apartment building on the block. 

Screenshot 2018-04-21 21.03.14

Those were the days when “free range kids” were just called, “kids,” and I roamed the neighborhood by myself, when I was four or five years old. Being the smallest kid in the neighborhood meant that either the kids took care of me, or they picked on me. Usually, though, I was content to play alone. There was a parameter that I was allowed to play within unless my mom let me go around the corner to the liquor store to buy a root beer and a 3 Muskateers candy bar. Our neighbor, Helen (her house is on the left in this photo) an elderly woman who wore an old-Hollywood-style turban, graciously allowed me to play in her front yard, since my family did not have one.

One summer, my mom and dad and I flew to Indiana to visit my mother’s side of the family. I was dropped off at my Aunt Doris’ house for the weekend, while my parents visited friends. My aunt had a small farm and a barn. One morning, she said, “Ok, go outside and play.” I asked where I was allowed to play outside, and she looked puzzled and said, “Anywhere outside.” I took off running and weaved through the corn fields. The world seemed limitless. 

At some point, it started to rain, and I headed for the barn. All the while, my aunt’s cats had been following me. In the barn, we hung out together on some hay. Earlier that weekend, one of my older cousins had taken me up a ladder to the barn’s loft and had guided me over the wooden planks, that had huge missing pieces in them, so that I could see the newborn kittens. They were wiggling and crawling over each other in a box. I have a vague memory of being allowed to gently pick up one and hold it, as long as the mama didn’t get upset. They looked like little hamsters. 

As the rain fell outside, I crept up the ladder by myself and carefully stepped over the child-sized holes of the loft to watch the kittens nurse. After it stopped raining, I returned to the house, and my aunt and I sat at the kitchen table, snapping peas with my cousins. My magical cat-friends remained outdoors, which to me, felt like the wild.

I had met cats before, of course. I loved my Hollywood grandma’s tuxedo cat, Muffin. I had been charmed by my grandparents’ neighbor cat, a Siamese who bit everyone but me. However, there was something magical about being released into the country with them, speeding through fields and cuddling them in the barn.                 

I have had two cats of my own, Mouse and Iggy, both of whom performed magic daily. They apparated around the house, edited my poetry, and slinked in and out of my dreams. I still believe that, at least one of them, maintained a secret blog. 

Iggy and me, earlier this year.
Mouse Cat Weiland and me, early in our adventure together. (Circa 2004)

As it is finals week, and I am busy herding metaphorical cats, I will simply leave you with a website that features cat poems; photos of Ernest Hemingway with his babies; and a somewhat disturbing Cats number, which is based on T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Naming of Cats.” If you have a favorite cat poem or a picture of you with your little fluffball, please share them in the comments!




Today’s blog post is a writing invitation! Follow me, won’t you, down memory lane? In one graduate course I took during my MA program, our professor assigned us a recitation. Here is a conversation we had on the day mine was due:

Professor: Shanti, are you ready for your recitation?

Me: Yes.

Professor: What poem will you recite?

Me: “Bitch.”

Professor: Shanti!

“Bitch” by Carolyn Kizer was one of my favorite poems in graduate school. The dramatic situation (or plot of the poem) involves a woman who runs into her ex and remains calm and affable to him. However, she internally experiences an array of emotions, triggered by his appearance. Kizer anthropomorphizes her speaker’s internal feelings by manifesting them as a dog, or the speaker’s inner “bitch.” Here, I’ll read it for you; I cannot recite it anymore since my memory’s gone to sh*t:

What are my favorite parts of this poem? I like the contrast in the speaker’s tone of voice and the emotional reaction of the bitch: “My voice says, ‘Nice to see you,’ / As the bitch starts to bark hysterically.” I also like the range of emotions the bitch experiences. She first reacts to the ex aggressively, and the speaker has to remind her that “He isn’t an enemy now,” but later, “At a kind word from him, a look like the old days, / The bitch changes her tone; she begins to whimper. / She wants to snuggle up to him, to cringe.” At this point, the speaker and the bitch switch stances, as the speaker disciplines: “Down, girl! Keep your distance / Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain. / ‘Fine, I’m just fine,’ I tell him.”

In the next several lines, the speaker explains that “she remembers how she came running / Each evening, when she heard his step; / How she lay at his feet and looked up adoringly.” Despite her devotion, “he was absorbed in his paper” but “the small careless kindnesses / When he’d had a good day, or a couple of drinks / …seem more important / Than the casual cruelties, the ultimate dismissal,” and the speaker must drag the bitch by the scruff “Saying, ‘Goodbye! Goodbye! Nice to have seen you again.’” The speaker’s desire to maintain dignity dominates over the bitch’s desire for the ex. Here, the bitch could really represent the id or a child, wanting this man despite the knowledge of his bad behavior. The speaker has the difficult task of tightening the reigns and escaping, while she still has control.

For the last three years, I have lived with dogs, and although they praise me each morning as if I were the rising sun, they are technically my wife’s dogs. I have lived with my eighteen year old cat (Mouse) for fourteen years. She is very much like a dog, which I hear is typical of the Maine Coon breed. Although she usually resembles royalty, greeting “her” guests as they enter “her” home, she does bestow special blessings on or warnings about some who cross her path. One memorable time she did the latter was when someone I felt “iffy” about came over. Mouse looked up at this person, then looked at me in disbelief (how could I let this disturbance into her home?) and began running around the living room, racing-track style. And although she has never once intentionally hurt me through scratching or biting (even when I’ve had the unfortunate task of bathing her) she ran right up to me, gave me a surprised look, and bit my hand. She pivoted and bolted down the hallway, fluffy tail a blur. I felt as though she had expressed, “You’ve been warned. Do what you will—I’m out!” She has also approved of people, sometimes placing a paw on their shoulder and giving me a knowing look.

Mouse Cat Weiland

I actually didn’t have Mouse when I recited “Bitch,” back in grad school, but I sometimes think of this poem when I see her manifest the good and the bad of what I already know but won’t say or admit.

So, here’s your writing invitation: Write a poem that anthropomorphizes an inner insecurity or a set of mixed emotions. Please share in the comments below. No need to be shy; we’re all friendly here!


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