Poems: A Trilogy of Cats
By Bashabi Fraser
Mishti – Our Black Cat
Gamboling in a gyre of your own creation
Making swift dashes to retrieve your tail,
A gymnast – boneless, weightless, without trepidation,
Rippling into contours as you whirl, or soar or sail
Across the room, an arrow released with tension,
A ballet dancer on points, pirouetting with delicate arms,
Jealously balancing a silly toy with the elation
Of an Olympic player, without any qualms
Of foul play, as your companion watches
Timidly, having been coaxed to abandon
His past-time, fearful of your scratches
Aware of your feline wiles, your guile, your wanton
Charm. You are here, then you are there
In the catch of a breath, a shooting star
Erratic and copious. Slouching in rare
Moments of effortless boredom, you stare
Into space and lose yourself in self-gratifying
Dreams – unashamedly lazy, stretching and rolling
Into every conceivable, comfortable, satisfying
Angle – curling, lounging, lying, lolling …
We have melted in your soft, black sheen
Entrapped by the hypnotic glance of green intensity
That you cast on your mate and all who are keen
To be enslaved by your paradoxical alertness and stupidity.
Toffee – our ginger cat
You were obviously of the feral pedigree
Overwhelmed by the cruelty of humans
And the elements, driven to a corner
Where you would, if you could, build a hole
To be able to retire and disappear on a
Wish. Those traumatised circles luminous eyes remain
Imprinted in our memory, reminiscent of the degree
Of pain that you knew – an expression
We chose to change with time and a new
Experience. You were an addition to our
Resolve to let our attention revolve
Around one abandoned cat. Seeing you cower
And hiss in an attempt to dismiss us, drew
Forth a challenge that we took up against repression.
At the beginning you spent the daylight hours
Bulldozed – a carpet of soft quivering ginger
Sheltering under sofas and beds, creeping
In spells of quietness, between food and manger –
Two glowing embers, watchful and wary,
Counting the seconds for the outbreak of danger
Which broke like a pregnant cloud one afternoon
Scratching and tearing my flesh in self-preservation,
Defying the confines of an stifling cat basket cage
Which foreboded another terrifying trip for conservation –
A resilient table under a smooth, firm hand of a vet
Who had joined forces with ours to enforce your salvation.
Then the portentous cloud dissolved into tears
Of anguish. The claws curled and disappeared
Never to reappear. The ginger carpet swelled,
Rippled, recovered and reared,
The circles of flaming alertness melted into wonder,
Learning to trust and welcome what it had feared.
Noah-our Felix cat
You were picked up on a slate-grey Edinburgh day
You were the last of a litter – unwanted
You flourished as soon as you came to stay
In a sprawling house where you sauntered
Through the rooms with a sense of ownership
That the two older cats had never mustered.
You were the coverpage boy your rescuer worshipped
Handsome, debonair, confident, unflustered.
The older cats were curious and welcoming
You responded with snarling ferocity
Startling them to retreat from your unbecoming
Hauteur with their natural shyness and dignity
In the conservatory you were the jungle warrior
The glass panes reflecting your tiny delicate frame.
You saw yourself multiplied in every reflective barrier
Which you took as your adversary to tame
Into submission. So you hissed and turned
Your sweet furry ball of a body forever
Arched, your hair spiked, your tail a stiff wand
But you did not terrify, all your defences never
Achieved their target as your opponents
Adopted indifference and walked away
Uninterested and deflated, redolent
Of the days when they discovered that they
Did not have the speed and ease
Of the hunter in their middle age.
You then knew the sense of release
That comes when one leaves a cage.
You were named Noah, which at first
Caused a dilemma. You were confused,
Unable to understand ‘No No’ – to your every burst
Of energy. Were you being greeted or dismissed?
You grew up to be the king of the neighbourhood
The night prowler, the day dozer
The swiftest hunter of every spring brood
Of birds and mice, never a loser.
Bringing unwanted trophies to the house
Which did not please your owners
To your amazement and surprise.
Bereft of the older cats you remain the gainer
Of sole attention, no longer a vision
Of fearsome intensity, but loving warm and polite
The once tiny straggly, spikey demon
Transformed now into a purry delight.
Bashabi Fraser is Professor in Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh. Bashabi is a poet, children’s writer, translator and editor. Her publications include Raga & Reels (2012), Scots Beneath the Banyan Tree: stories from Bengal (2012), From the Ganga to the Tay (2009), Bengal Partition Stories: an unclosed chapter (2006, 2008, for which she was awarded a British Academy research grant), Tartan & Turban (2004) and A Meeting of Two Minds: the Geddes–Tagore letters (2005, which received a Moray Foundation grant). Her commissioned works include The Ramayana, a play written with a Scottish Arts Council writer’s grant, and her co-edited anthology Rainbow World: poems from many cultures (Hodder & Stoughton, 2003), which was runner-up for the Emma best book award. Bashabi has worked with the British Council in Bangladesh, India and Mauritius, with the BBC, and as a writer-in-residence on the BT Future Talk programme. She has taught creative writing at the Arvon Foundation and the Open University and participates in literary festivals. Her prizes include the AIO award for literary services in Scotland (2009). Bashabi is a member of Scottish Pen and a committee member of the Poetry Association of Scotland and Writers in Prison Committee (Scotland), Patron of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and on the Management committee of Scottish Writers Centre. She is joint director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore studies and teaches English and creative writing at Edinburgh Napier University.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.