Poem of the Week

There’s More Than One Way to Spin a Cat

Eda Zoritte examines 'feline' as a left-handed compliment, obsessive perversions and all.

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Not a bit like you

Eda Zoritte

A cat! Really now! That whole
cult around it. Does its feline,
nocturnal, secretive existence embarrass
it? And when it rips apart birds
and fish, does it beat its breast?
And the guilt that crouches like
gray, spongy matter at the edge of the heart
the mind – a cat’s mind –
when the feeble spirit takes charge
of the rampaging flesh, and the male’s
indifference when she rolls around
in heat, rubbing, wailing,
secreting smells –
giving the female a
complex?
And the cat even knows a thing or
two about nerves, egoism,
(protective of its territory) xeno-
phobia (bared teeth, fur on edge,
scratches), obsessive
perversions (mirroring its owners’)
evil (not cruelty for its own sake),
ingratitude –
that already makes it a loathsome creature,
malicious, scheming, a cruel manipulator
and petty
(I say: Just like you,
you’ll say: Just like you)
So do me a favor, drop
the comparison with cats.

From Tsel Hazman (“The Shadow of Time”), Olam Hadash, 2014. Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Kittens are coming into the world around now and female street cats, backs arched, will hiss at anyone who comes too close to their broods’ bit of hedge.

Many visitors to Israel are surprised to see the large numbers of feral cats in the cities. These aren’t “strays” but rather cats whose entire life-cycle is conducted in the streets. Newcomers are likely to be told that these cats play an ecological role in controlling urban rodent and snake populations. As in many countries, some Israelis take it upon themselves to feed street cats and for others, cats are valued members of the household, who must be enticed into the safe room when air-raid sirens go off.

Even people who don’t own – or even like – cats have plenty of opportunity to observe them here.

Eda Zoritte has observed them well. This flirtatious yet sarcastic poem is addressed to a male interlocutor, as we can tell from the verb formations and pronouns in the Hebrew.

The woman in the poem bridles at having been compared to a cat – sleek as a cat? Lands on her feet like a cat? Graceful as a cat? Sourpuss? Cuddly as a kitten? Sex kitten? She does not see felines as mirrors of positive qualities in humans but rather enumerates ways in which Felis catus reflects negative qualities of Homo sapiens.

And the underpinning of the poem is that she is completely familiar with these problematic qualities in a way that indicates she has not only observed them in cats but has in fact experienced them herself. This is evident, for example, in the sequence that begins: “And the guilt that crouches like /gray, spongy matter at the edge of the heart / the mind – a cat’s mind – / when the feeble spirit takes charge / of the rampaging flesh ”

Omri Lior

Everyone knows that cats – unlike dogs – will never acknowledge guilt. “I say: Just like you, / you’ll say: Just like you” is an imagined hissy fit between two cats before she tells the male to drop the comparison.

Eda Zoritte began publishing essays in 1952 and since then has published many works of prose, fiction, biography and poetry.

Musing: Is the tone of the poem disparaging of cats, appreciative of cats, neutral or simply catty?

Bonus: T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats” is the basis for the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats,” in which John Partridge sings “The Rum Tum Tugger.”[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHySvxR1fqg ]