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Known Them

October 10, 2007

Known a fair number of them. Heard the first
squeak of them from inside a box or cage.
Watched them dart, look puzzled, scamper, wage
war on shoe-laces, yowling fit to burst,
mumbling of hunger, restlessness and thirst.

Known them draw blood from a fingertip. Known
them attack a flick of hair. Known them leap
off unpredictable ledges and fall asleep
on a doorstep as if it were a throne.
Known them like company but walk alone.

Known those eyes that search yours then grow bored
and turn into themselves, the world gone flat
as sadness. Known them fixed on the faint pat-
ter of rain or the spinning of an old record,
or shirt-sleeves dangling from the ironing board.

Known them asleep for hours. Known the grace
of their long backs arching. Known their mad
devil-possessed scramblings, their jihad
on anything that moves from place to place.
Known set expressions flit across one’s face

as if they were ghosts of thoughts or faint beams
of perception. Known them stretch out and purr
at the slightest touch of brush on tangled fur.
Known them hunched, lost in enormous daydreams
of killing and sexual capers. Watched their schemes

of world domination come a cropper when
distracted by a paper clip on the floor.
Watched them in two minds at an open door
unable to commit. Saw them expect ten
lives, not nine. Saw them hiss and sharpen

their claws on furniture so far pristine.
Saw right into their souls, or what I thought
were souls. Saw the dead things they brought
into the house. Saw them fat and thin,
and saw them end soon after they begin.

Have shared rooms with them. Fed them. Played a while
with the young ones. Have yet to see one cry
though sickening to death. Have seen them die
in old age. Have seen them crocked, immobile,
wounded, run down, left in a bloody pile.

Have known the names to which they gave no heed,
the names of spaces in the human mind.
Have known them hanker after their own kind.
Have known their stomachs blown out from pure greed.
Have known the loss of them. Their mirrored need.

by George Szirtes

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  1. October 10, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    “…Watched their schemes
    of world domination come a cropper when
    distracted by a paper clip on the floor…”

    How absolutely brilliantly wonderfully true. The whole poem, but this especially.
    If only it were also true of two-legged world dominators, we could just sprinkle the earth with paper clips then sleep safely in our beds.

  2. Rockingham
    October 11, 2007 at 9:29 am

    I have known many cats and this decribes them all. A fantastic poem. Left me smiling and moist-eyed.

  3. October 12, 2007 at 1:13 am

    All of which & more besides accounts for my preference for cats over dogs! Sadly, I have known ‘one cry though sickening to death’, but all else rings strong & true for me.

  4. KC
    October 14, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Furry good Carnival.
    Us Sherwood cats give it 9 paws up, that be tha maximum.
    Purrs, KC

  5. Louise
    October 17, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I wonder if the title has anything to do with “knowin’ em” from “William and the Black Cat” by Richmal Crompton?

  6. October 20, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Wow. Right on.

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