The Cat’s Song
When we first saw our cat Chester at the shelter, we’d come in from walking dogs in the cold and were sitting in the cat enclosure in our coats, petting cats and trying to warm up. He climbed up in a lap and purred and purred. We all loved him. We loved him so much we came home from the shelter and talked Ron into coming back to the shelter to meet him, and he climbed up in Ron’s lap and purred and purred until he charmed him into sharing our feeling that we must take this cat home.
We didn’t need another cat. We had two, Samson and Delilah, who we’d gotten at the shelter as 8-week-old kittens after deciding that our young children were bothering our old cat, Rossi, too much. We did need a black and white cat, though, because that color combination had been 4-year-old Eleanor’s wish before she fell in love with the gray-striped cat she named Delilah.
Chester’s shelter name was “Wiley” and even though it suited him, Walker, who was almost 2, said he needed a “yellow name,” the name of the yellow cat from the Bunnicula books. Chester especially loved Walker, mostly because he liked to be petted when he settled on a lap. Chester demanded attention. He would seize a pencil from your hand and bite it, and he liked to curl up with Ron, who would scratch his neck, up the sides of his face, and behind his ears. He would bump Eleanor’s hand when she was drawing and paw her pen. Every night he would follow me into the bedroom and wait on the bed until I would lie down with my book, and then he would put his front paws on my chest and demand petting while I read for the 10-15 minutes I usually read before going to sleep. When I closed the book and turned off the light, he would usually hop off the bed and go find something else to do.
Because he spent his first six months at the shelter, Chester had a respiratory infection that became chronic. After his first year, even our veterinarian could no longer get a pill in his mouth. Once when he got an infected bite, he had to go to the vet every day for a week to get an antibiotic shot. After that, though, he learned to let me squirt liquid antibiotic down his throat. He was smart.
He liked to sit out on our deck with the sun on his fourteen pounds of muscle and black fur, and then he would leap to life to catch bugs. He was good at it, too, with lightning-fast claws that would scoop them out of the air. He liked to play so much that when he was already ten years old and we brought home a new kitten, the two of them would chase each other around and take turns baiting both real and stuffed mice.
He was like the cat in this poem, “The Cat’s Song” by Marge Piercy.
Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.
Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.
Up until his very last day, Chester sang to us in the mornings, speaking greed with his paws and fear with his white whiskers. Love spoke him entire. We miss him.