How A Black Cat Came To Symbolise Bad Luck

We found a stray, sympathetic beings
Come what may, to universal plights
Known by neglected domesticated
Mammalia these days, for extinction
Is less a mass event, it’s a slow unwinding overnight,
Finding craters and sink holes appeared.
Neighbours said ‘this stray, it will bring you luck’,
But it’s getting a little late for that.

Mangy hair, a silver bell made proclamations
Like an Emperor of Sounds, and we didn’t complain.
Blue collar, no name engraved on a non-existent disc,
A slightly wild-eyed glare as the stray
Ate all the tuna we placed in a bowl
On the patio. He ate like an empty-stomached wolf
Whose belly rumbled in time to forest rainstorms
And whose timber ribs ached through every bone.

No care for recrimination, nor reprisal;
Naturally, he returned each day to his gorging place
With increasing confidence and weight
Bordering on insouciance and later
Encasing lipids, sat beside the back door,
His claws clicked along the porch,
No doubt walking over graves;
For one day we drove to work, unaware

That constant betrayals bled berried thoughts throughout.
Arriving home, three blackbirds mauled,
Three less songs. Those empty nests.
Avian throats provoked a furore of Sophoclean choruses within willow-fleeces
For sons eviscerated indiscriminately
By a stray that was not hungry, had no need;
A tiger never forgets its claws, and neither did he.

Chanting, yes, the aggressor’s name,
Empathies of sparrows wore masks
Regardless. So they stripped the cat
Of his title, its talismanic black
Entitlement and charms, and we received
In dreams instructions from the flock
To trap and stop his fortune, eternally,
In a waving form, in porcelain.

They said this last one will bring you luck,
Handing the charm to a boy at the front,
Just like the maneki-neko in future versions Of Kobe, or Tokyo; on a sea-front,
Kimono-wrapped, now found in restaurants,
In plastic, or ceramic, and fabric-wrapped,
Guarding fish shops and arcades
Which, in time, replaced pagodas and temples.

The Red Cat And The Blue

Last night, the cat re-entered
Through the flap of my dreams,
The one you may or may not remember
I told you all about in scenes
And named the newborn poem
‘Feathers In The Fennel’,
(Although I do not expect you
Would dismember thoughts from memories
Just because I have to);
The very same cat, only this time
By an orange-red tabby friend accompanied;
They sat on the compost box
Beyond the rosehip and the garlic,
And they talked like old accomplices,
With such great ease,
About the virtues of mice and wrens and
The current disease in their two-legged friends
Which had led to the inconvenience of them
Being home more often than usual.
The scent of ginseng wafted into the dream,
And cassia, and juniper seeds;
In his field of view that red cobby found me,
As piercing as prayers from a high priestess
Whispered straight through the locks
And domains of angels in heaven,
He sauntered over the lawn with airs
Of a munificent feudal lord,
Orgulously surveying the garden
As if he himself had managed the jasmine and verbena
Feeling their seven-fingered ways through the fence,
Then stretching as only cats can stretch,
He jumped comfortably on to my kitchen window sill
And purred as I stood transfixed
By the overflowing sink,
His penetrating feline eyes
Would battle with myths
To conquest and have convinced my latest soul,
And he quietly yawned, or it may have been a roar
And said:
“Nick, here are several collective nouns for cats”;
He paused, and thoughtfully licked a furry paw,
Then provocatively, as if it was the only thing
Which mattered right now in this world,
Which of course it was,
Continued, (I could not move,
For he had my limbs in his vice-like catnip-grip)
“Including a clowder of cats,
And a glaring of cats,
Which is my personal favourite,
A litter, of course, and some which are new,
Some which are as ancient as my mummified relatives
Back in the cat necropolises
Of Saqqara”,
He jumped from the window sill,
And in that moment I awoke, cold and sweating,
For they used to deposit dead cats
Dried in cavities within the walls
Of houses, shops and pubs,
To ward off malevolent spirits
And cultivate good fortunes;
Wrapped in herbs, the cats were scented
With the juniper and cassia
For their healing and preservative compounds;
But in the dream they had me switched,
The orange-red cat and myself,
Painted me blue, gave me some food,
And left me dried there for centuries
For other people’s purposes
In that false familiar wall
From where I would write
By the mind’s candle-light,
Morning, noon and night
Under the stairwell joists,
As the families and lovers
Through that home’s happy history
Laughed, and sang, and rejoiced.

Feathers In The Fennel

I shouldn’t have encouraged you,
Leaving food outside the greenhouse door;
You were pursuing pigeons and a rodent,
But weak minds wander, then the heart.
Rescued from our own devices,
Twice we crossed our crossless paths.

That first time you unveiled yourself
On the lawn, it was a blustery summer’s day;
You wore a collar in midnight blue,
Reflective sparks, light disarrayed;
Distinctive sounds, and in our own ways
We were equally undernourished and astray.

You were hiding in the rhubarb,
A distant dog barked from its kennel,
I knew that you and a jackdaw sparred,
Found her feathers in the fennel.
The rosebush is resurgent,
Two nesting boxes are empty and dark.

I remember when you bit me,
The rings in my skin, the shock of the dart;
Blood coagulates within twelve minutes,
Drove to the surgery in a bird-stained car,
Explained to disbelieving reception staff
That it was just an act of love.

For at night you breeched my dream-larder,
Robed as the Goddess, wearing black furs;
Ailuranthropic, you bit me harder,
The gibbous werecat’s succubine touch.
There was a Worming Moon unfolding,
By dawn six rabbits were dead in the hutch.

A thousand years or so ago,
Restorationists working fallow fields
Scraped amulets and hollow dolls;
Whittled once to ward off omens,
In a Suffolk hundred’s Sun they kneeled,
The cats carved in my ribs were Roman.