David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
Studies for a Portrait

[STUDIES FOR A PORTRAIT OF SOMEONE I KNOW]

  

i 

 

 

Minnie,

3,

Has fur.

 

Nothing, not even God,

Deters

Her from leaping

 

Vertical

3

Feet

 

And settling down to sniff my father's squat

Polyester knee.

We are seldom

 

Free

Of her.

Her eyes are so large they include

 

Great dishes of tinned mass-produced chow.

Just now

She eats—listen!

 

This is no mean cat,

No half-assed

Feline,

 

But a genuine hundred-percent lovely

Get-your-claws-in sniffer,

Puss,

 

With ALL the credentials—

Even the vet's amazed, crazed, seemingly

On trial,

 

Stunned

To unwind

The most perfunctory inoculation

 

Down

His tepid pike of rat-busters

And thoroughbreds

 

With blinks through thick

Lenses, a twitch,

A son-of-a-bitch,

 

And

A

Smile.

 

 

ii 

 

 

Let's get

THIS

Straight—

 

I'll sleep tonight and not be batted

On the chin

Or elsewhere when I adjust,

 

Wherever I must.

Sheer force

Of habit

 

Would make me call you half rabbit,

Half princess?

A little

 

Left over, just an inch

Perhaps

Of lapse—

 

Original sin?

As when

You sprung from our Frigidaire

 

On

My

Thin, thinning

 

Skull, on air, a wisp of prayer,

Bound for the

Bedroom, a blur, a thrill,

 

Tail like a rudder,

Kiddy

Shudder

 

Down

Your

Innocent spine, that sublime time ago

 

I nearly lost an eye.

You inched

Back in

 

And rubbed against my thigh

(I'll get

The rhyme—

 

And sleep tonight, Miss Min,

With just

A trace

 

Of

Grace).

I'll sleep just fine.

 

 

iii

 

 

She's no Rosie, no porky,

But large

Enough

 

To hamper whatever innocent intentions

I

Might harbor

 

Toward Johanna

With a nuzzle,

Purr,

 

Poke of the claws,

And when

I swat her, just a blur

 

Toward the kitchen

For further

Nourishment,

 

Of what type I could answer, fur-food, whatever,

And prefer

To

 

The manner in which she and my wife

Conspire

To deter

 

MY grandiose dreams

Of carnal

Rapture—David, just watch her, it's worth a picture!

 

When all I need

Is a simple deed.

You'd think I were a lecher.  You'd think?

 

You'd think

I were

A clown.

 

Miss Min, I can't get close

When

You're around.

 

 

iv

 

 

Do not go gentle

Into your

Litter box!

 

No, tear it up a bit,

In time,

Fastidious, settle down

 

To business

Near at hand

And raise

 

A stink—

All mortals do the same—

You little

 

Hard-metal

New Jersey

Omni-sniffer, nemesis

 

Of boredom,

Darkness,

Self-pity,

 

Hyper-actively catlike,

Furry,

Driven,

 

Mystery-Minnie,

Packed-in, Platonic, photo-realistic,

A regular

 

Bruce Springsteen

Of a kitty,

Not for your effete Siamese-fancying, Mercedes-wielding

 

Exotic neurotic,

But a regular guy

With

 

Cheap furniture

And modest ambition.  Decisive without decision.

We speak

 

Of cats

And not

Contrition!

 

 

v

 

 

Shake a leg!

She's washing the windows,

You small

 

Bugger.

Time for the grand escape, out on hot tar

To tremble

 

Each

Little

Paw,

 

Gingerly now, navigating that blank

Black space

Till I've squeezed through

 

Hot after you,

Sneaker prints and exasperation

After

 

The latest raw sensation,

My Min,

Close to the dizzy edge, daring

 

The gutters

As our neighbors, fresh from last night's bash,

Check

 

What you make

Of their

Trash, pull back, close

 

Their shutters

Against

The heat we're trapped to endure,

 

Too poor

For central AC,

Here

 

In September,

Just back from DC,

Taking

 

It easy

Till Johanna spoiled it.  There, I've got you.

Now she hugs her!

 

 

vi

 

 

The fringed, lank-haired fellow

Who

Brought

 

You

Seemed time-capsuled

From 1969,

 

Fired a j

To say

A line of coke would do him fine, or 2, or nine,

 

Complained of Reagan,

Slipped

To the corridor

 

To admire an original

Oil

By Hopper—not Edward, James,

 

My brother-

In-law,

Circa '64, surveyed the execution somewhat bored,

 

And all the while you sniffed

From door to door,

Aching

 

Perhaps for more,

Some dim future when you'd leap twelve feet

From

 

A plywood cube, diagonal, regional,

To the

Highest shelf

 

Imaginable,

Lay that to waste, cross to the curtain

Rod,

 

Jagged tears to reach the floor.

That very

First night,

 

From your hippie master

I should have

Augured

 

Disaster,

A taste, I'm sure,

Of what you had in store.

 

 

vii

 

 

Let's get closer to it!

To the casually

Involved,

 

You're nondescript,

Brainy,

Nothing to ease the transition

 

To whirlwind,

A holocaust of good intentions,

Gestapo maiden

 

For everything that flies, crawls, inches

In

Unsuspecting

 

From that vast ghetto

You fail

To understand,

 

Having only the floor plan

And part

Of the stair

 

For your lair,

An occasional rally to the roof

Or foyer,

 

Battering screen, door, glass, for more,

Repast of insect

Daring

 

The view, what few get through,

A nasty quick gobble

You chuck

 

In time with Johanna's fauna

And

The parmesan,

 

Zinnias, there between my toes

Each AM

I stumble to the john.

 

 

viii

 

 

Even my mother

Knew

You were a radical, Marxist, reactionary,

 

A leaner sort

Of left-leaner, dispensing

Your

 

Sneaky wisdom,

Tribe

Of subscriber, an ornate fiction, commie, fascist

 

Contradiction, hectic

Dialectic,

Front for all the major lost causes or clauses

 

That ever began to offend

Or upend

The capital

 

Status quo—sniffing my daughter's publications, notes,

Quotes,

The amnesty binders

 

And other reminders

Of just

How far such instincts flow.

 

The substance of claws is

Nothing major,

Mind you,

 

But decisive.  Derisive!

We called you

In

 

The kitchen for a dressing-down.

You hissed

And headed for your box,

 

Refused

A can of Morris, acted tight.

No small amount

 

Of petting made it right.  Johanna

Hardly slept

That night.

 

From right to left you seem demented.

I woke

That morning strongly scented.

 

 

ix  

 

 

The times that we have steak

It's often rare.

The scent

 

Is on the air,

Enough to trigger

Our private

 

Smoke detector, our nine-lives

Defector,

Five pound pussy gobbler,

 

Reaching to claw

My knees,

Once, twice, persistent.

 

You'd swear the Pope was there,

Some ecclesiastical

Detective

 

Sniffing a contraceptive,

Miss Min,

Angling for a bit of choice,

 

Purloin a sirloin,

Like the hateful occasion

You nipped

 

In solid fat and yanked it the floor,

The whole gristly

Pound.

 

Johanna shuddered at the grisly sound.

It nearly turned

Her faith around.

 

She nearly got a new religion.  Less furry, more fury.

She let you have

Your cut

 

And washed it up and heated what was left.

That time I hated you

Enough

 

To fry you up

And watch her

Watch ME chew.

 

 

x     

 

 

On PBS evenings you display

A liking

For Zubin Mehta,

 

Aping his conducting,

Or the cat

Chow features

 

Breaking up Dan Rather.

You've

Watched many a studied individual

 

Pinch

An

Inch.

 

What you fail to understand

Is the intricacy

Of wiring

 

On our watty stereo.

You'd like

To know

 

The source of all that sound

From classical

To Ezra

 

Pound to Sting.

It's often

A sing

 

Along, unbidden, a peculiar kind of howl, a screech,

Syncopation

Of frustration

 

That we'd dare to watch or listen

To some show

That starves your flow.

 

I swing the door shut on your grand performance,

Just when you hit

Your

 

Stride.

You carry on with claws and hisses.  We blow you kisses

From the other side.

 

 

xi 

 

 

Miss Min, you're lurking

To my left.

Only the ears

 

Twitch when this SOB

Halts

His typing

 

Just to see if you're awake.

For my sake

I'd rather you gather

 

Up and saunter toward the kitchen.

It's a guilty

Feeling

 

Revealing

Each

Small

 

Nuance

Of my grief,

Afraid my reader suffers

 

Disbelief.

How could chance, for chance is all we know,

Permit

 

A cat such levity?

And if we

Rest our little lives on faith,

 

What deity?

It's really the society of feline I'm about

And neither

 

Faith nor doubt.

In times

Of indecision there is always revision.  Don't shout!

 

Johanna not Jehovah

Planned

To keep her on when faith or doubt was gone,

 

When patience

Thinned.

There is no ready solution.

 

Perhaps I've sinned!  Then further

Sinning's

The solution.

 

 

xii

 

 

On the other hand

I'll let it stand

You are Min,

 

My Min, no twisted sister, no hunk, no junk,

No primordial

Atavistic

 

Joke, no creditor, no predator, no editor,

Sleek

As the meekest dream that settles

 

Down,

Coiling my innards

Toward no small comfort, a thing of belly, navel,

 

I exude toward love

At times,

Tenderness for your capricious hide

 

And

All I've denied

That was good and tried.  Just like that it

 

Appears, asserts itself

Again, again over

3

 

Brief

Years,

A kind of tender little furry-mercy,

 

A charm,

As when I open vittles for your 5 AM snack

And you attack

 

Ever so gently my elbow

With small

White insistent teeth, the tiniest

 

Nip,

Or wrap about my leg

Or peg

 

Me for the fraud I might have been

Had I never let you in

My

 

Heart,

As when you trill when I approach, madonna, silly-filly,

Little tart.

 

                                                 1985

                                                                

Elsbeth with Rosie, Minnie, & Jessie

                                                               D. Swartz                                                    

                                                    

johanna {with minnie}

                                               Swartz