We’ve all heard of Schrödinger’s cat. He’s sealed in a box, poor thing, with radioactive material and something called quantum superposition. That’s geek speak for an experiment centered on being “simultaneously alive and dead,” which is a tricky business, even for 9-lived felines who ain’t feeling so fine.
Less famous is Bukowski’s Cat, apparently quantum-free. This week I picked up over 500 pages of Charles Bukowski poetry in the form of the book, The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993.
The lead-off batter? Bukowski’s cat! Very much alive, which is more than you can say for the mockingbird in its mouth — simultaneously alive and dead — and no box needed!
If you’ve ever had an outdoor cat (politically incorrect as they are nowadays), you know the drill. Still, let’s see how deeds Darwinesque become poetry for writers like Bukowski:
the mockingbird had been following the cat
mocking mocking mocking
teasing and cocksure;
the cat crawled under rockers on porches
and said something angry to the mockingbird
which I didn’t understand.
yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
with the mockingbird alive in its mouth,
wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,
feathers parted like a woman’s legs,
and the bird was no longer mocking,
it was asking, it was praying
but the cat
striding down through centuries
would not listen.
I saw it crawl under a yellow car
with the bird
to bargain it to another place.
summer was over.
It’s no coincidence that Bukowski chooses a mockingbird. Doing so gives the poem an almost Aesopian feel. There’s a moral to this fable, you see, only the bird won’t be around long enough to learn from it. Maybe the reader, then?
And, as I am 100 pages in, I note two stylistic quirks Bukowski loves: lowercase letters and single-lined stanzas at the finish. If you’re not famous and try this at home, expect your reader-friends to call you on it. Single lined finishes are gimmicky, they’ll say. A sure way to sink any poem.
But really, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as I ‘ve read, read, read (my poetic schooling in lieu of the pricey letters M, F, and A), it’s that rules by their nature are suspect. You know. Like John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.