I never would have taken Rose, my cantankerous female cat, to be a poetry aficionada. Romance novels would be more her speed but only the swashbuckling kind where the cover shows an ample-bosomed woman hanging lustily in the arms of a half naked, very muscular, man. I could imagine Rose gobbling up those Harlequin novels by the dozens. Nick, I think, would go more for Mickey Spillane or maybe Hercule Poiret. But, poetry, nah, I didn’t imagine either of them would be soothed by rhyming verses.
Maybe it’s because they’re not that exposed to poetry in this house. Sure I have volumes on the shelf, most of which I moved with me up here and never opened again. I don’t think they got much attention from me in Washington either. I once got a failing grade on an exam on poetry. It wasn’t about not knowing the different kinds of rhyme or beats or whatever. No, it was just that the instructor didn’t appreciate my interpretation of a
poem that he chose to put on the exam. Isn’t every poem up to interpretation by the reader? I was very distraught when I saw that grade. I still remember going home on the bus and then standing in the kitchen, clutching the bluebook in my hand while munching on potato chips and telling my roommate the injustice of it. I felt very stupid. I never took a poetry class again.
What I did do, though, was buy a volume of e.e. cummings poems. It was the late 1960s and people like me did those things. I carried it with me on the 30-something bus that took me down Pennsylvania Avenue to the said poetry class. I don’t remember whether I thought carrying cummings around made me look hip and “with it” or perhaps I thought the instructor would be impressed. But I do remember that I always had that book with me. It’s when I got to know “Buffalo Bill’s defunct” and “To be nobody-but yourself in a world…” I believe that I read more poetry on those bus rides than I ever have since. And, you know what, I didn’t care at the time whether I knew what they meant or not. I wonder what happened to that book? Did I take it to Germany with me in 1969? I don’t think so. So I must have left it behind and it got lost somewhere. Maybe I became very poetic, myself, and left it on the 30-something bus for some other 20 something to pick up and read and carry around the city. I doubt that I did that knowing my shy self back then, but I’d like to believe I could have done it.
So I’ve been without a volume of e.e. cummings on my shelf all my years in Toronto. I didn’t register actually missing him or feeling a hole in my life. But, when I opened the Way of Gratitude for my daily reading yesterday, I was pleased to see one of his poems there. This is where Rose comes in. Every morning, or most mornings, I should say, I spend ten minutes up on my bed with my feet straight up the wall. My physiotherapist highly recommended that I did this three times a day to get that old stagnating blood away from my feet and ankles. It really does make me feel better but, like so many other things that make me feel better, I don’t always do it. But I did yesterday.
Rose, limped her way up the stairs and managed to get her degenerative limb up on the bed where she immediately began to complain about her aches and pains. I could have joined in since it was a damp day and my own arthritic body was protesting the injustice of it all. So I asked her if she wanted me to read this poem to her. She gave me a short, “mew,” which could have meant, “I’d love to hear that, Ann.” Or, “Bugger off Ann, I’m in pain here.” I chose the former interpretation. The poem was e.e. cummings’, “I thank You God for most this amazing”. By the time I got to the second line, Rose got very, very quiet. She watched me and the book and didn’t make a sound. When I finished, she flipped on her back, gave another short “mew” as a prompt for me to read it again. So I did. It was quite amazing really to see how this cat was soothed by those words or by my reading. Today, she reappeared at the right time. I started to read something else out loud but she protested so I read the poem again, and again she listened. And, like the day before, she flipped on her back and waited for me to read it again.
Last night, I asked her if she’d like to hear a little of Leaves of Grass. She mewed her approval of Walt Whitman’s robust verses. But when I started a Neruda love poem, she looked at me in disgust and took a hike off the back of the sofa. Maybe it was my poor pronunciation of the Spanish. I think I’ll have to get a volume of e.e. cummings just for her. In the end, I think that Rose will teach me more about the meaning of poetry than that professor at George Washington University ever taught me. Already, she has taught me that she, and probably me, have all the appreciation and meaning we need from a poem in our souls.