Cat Poems

Gavin Ewart

Catwoman

Tattooed Thief Prowls Streets In Tony Neighbourhoods, Eludes Police for Years.
American news item. All words in italics are quoted from this.

James, the yardman, was working out back,
  Maude, the maid, was tossing a salad
what better beginning, if you’re having a crack
  at writing a criminal ballad?
And I do want to make it plain:
Atlanta’s notorious Catwoman had struck again.

In a pricey Buckhead neighbourhood Mrs Watts,
   just before a gardenclub party,
she’d quite a lot of money (you could call it pots) –
   but an interloper, hale and hearty,
with a white female 160 to 180 pound carcass,
interloped, and snatched her $2,500 carnelian earrings from Neiman-Marcus.

For ten years, Police say, she’s been at it;
   she’s very manly lookingby no account is she a beauty
if she has anything to do with a cat it
   isn’t her svelteness or nimbleness: no cutie,
on her beefy forearm she sports a tattoo
and she has an ample derriere too.

Prime suspect is a 33-year-old Canadian, Alice McGraw.
   She’s in no way a cat burglar, conventionally
shinning over roofs, with a lithe and vanishing paw –
   no, she leads people up the garden path, intentionally
misleading the well-heeled householders, leading them astray!
And while they’re astray, she’s in the house, out again and away!

In a sense, she does play with them, like a cat with a mouse;
   What is unusual about her’s exactly that.
If she’s found lurking in the garden of a house
   she claims she’s only searching for her own lost cat.
Kindly householders will beat the azaleas for kitty.
While she nips into the house. She’s sitting pretty –

last year $1 million – her total for 1988!
   Cash, silver, jewellery and other expensive goods.
Diamond rings and other heirlooms. Her profits are great.
  But she’s not one of your ordinary modern hoods.
She’s more like a pirate. Lives in New Brunswick, they believe.
And every year pops down to Atlanta for what she can thieve ...

Cats and Bags

The cruelty of the emperor [Theodore Lascaris II] was exasperated by the pangs of sickness, the approach of a premature end, and the suspicion of poison and magic ... A matron of the family of the Palaeologi had provoked his anger by refusing to bestow her beauteous daughter on the vile plebeian who was recommended by his caprice. Without regard to her birth or age, her body, as high as her neck, was inclosed in a sack with several cats, who were pricked with pins to irritate their fury against their unfortunate fellow captive.

Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter LXII

What’s funny? There’s always something cruel in what’s funny.
William Plomer would have enjoyed this story.
‘An old bag in a bag’ – you can imagine the poem – how hilarious!
Hard-hearted verse, slightly obscene; as they once said, ‘curious’,
like the bombed horsehaunch landing smack on a vegetarian table –
a warning to cranks, a kind of moral cautionary fable.

But I think this whole thing has a different kind of resonance,
it’s uneasy, like giving up standard rhyme for assonance.
To begin with, it’s cruelty to cats – ‘a part to tear a cat in’,
remember, once meant exactly that, you can put that in
your History of Cruelty; and on Bonfire Night, disgusting
it now seems, they burned cats, there was catcombustion ...

And, if you consider the state of the mind and health of the Emperor,
he wasn’t exactly happy, he wasn’t like Beecham or Klemperer
romping away with Mozart or Beethoven. He was extremely sick.
In those days if a King didn’t like you, he could cut off your prick.
He could have been nastier to her. Use your imagination.
They used to do terrible things to unpopular statesmen.

So what I think is that nobody did well out of it,
life-enhancing it wasn’t, there can be no doubt of it.
Perhaps the vile plebeian profited most from the deal
unless the beauteous daughter liked rough trade. So I feel
the matron was morally best, the cats neutral, there’s no deep
moral. Except that an Emperor can often be a bit of a creep!