Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "A Cat Named Sloopy"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have admitted in this space before that I don't do a good job of keeping up with the news.  I follow the headlines on the internet, most of the time, but no longer have cable television for regular news programming.  Some days I listen to the news on National Public Radio, but at other times I even neglect that.

So it came as a sad surprise this morning when I learned that my favorite poet, Rod McKuen, had passed away several months ago.

Rod Mckuen, who was born into poverty and an extremely abusive home in Oakland, California, in 1933, ran away from home and began surviving on his own at the age of eleven.   He traveled the world doing manual labor and observing life.   McKuen read his early poetry in the coffee houses of San Francisco where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.  He found commercial success with his poetry and as a songwriter in the 1960's.   His two most successful volumes of poetry were Listen to the Warm and Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows.  Rod McKuen passed away at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills in January of this year.  He was eighty-one.

Rod McKuen had a great love for cats, and they were often featured in his works.  One of my favorite McKuen pieces is "A Cat Named Sloopy" from Listen to the Warm.   It is a tale of love and grief and mourning - but mostly love.  The poem is a comfort - much like a saucer of warm cream.

A Cat Named Sloopy
by Rod McKuen

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she’d sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We’d talk into the night then
but missing something,
She the earth she never knew
me the hills I ran
while growing bent.
Sloopy should have been a cowboy’s cat
with prairies to run
not linoleum
and real-live catnip mice.
No one to depend on but herself.
I never told her
but in my mind
I was a midnight cowboy even then.
Riding my imaginary horse
down Forty-second Street,
going off with strangers
to live an hour-long cowboy’s life,
but always coming home to Sloopy,
who loved me best.
A dozen summers
we lived against the world.
An island on an island.
She’d comfort me with purring
I’d fatten her with smiles.
We grew rich on trust
needing not the beach or butterflies
I had a friend named Ben
Who painted buildings like Roualt men.
He went away.
My laughter tired Lillian
after a time
she found a man who only smiled.
Only Sloopy stay and stayed.
Nineteen fifty-nine.
Old men walk their dogs.
Some are walked so often
that their feet leave
little pink tracks
in the soft gray snow.
Women fur on fur
elegant and easy
only slightly pure
hailing cabs to take them
round the block and back.
Who is not a love seeker
when December comes?
even children pray to Santa Claus.
I had my own love safe at home
and yet I stayed out all one night
the next day too.
They must have thought me crazy
as the snow came falling
down around me.
I was a madman
to have stayed away
one minute more
than the appointed hour.
I’d like to think a golden cowboy
snatched her from the window sill,
and safely saddlebagged
she rode to Arizona.
She’s stalking lizards
in the cactus now perhaps
bitter but free.
I’m bitter too
and not a free man any more.
Once was a time,
in New York’s jungle in a tree,
before I went into the world
in search of other kinds of love
nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy.
Looking back
perhaps she’s been
the only human thing
that ever gave back love to me.

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