Friday, January 04, 2019

Arias of Love and Death

Alley Cats in Panama
—Anonymous Photos

—A.E. Stallings (b. 1968)

Every night, we couldn’t sleep.
Our upstairs neighbors had to keep
Dropping something down the hall—
A barbell or a bowling ball,

And from the window by the bed,
Echoing inside my head,
Alley cats expended breath
In arias of love and death.

Dawn again, across the street,
Jackhammers began to beat
Like hangovers, and you would frown—
That well-built house, why tear it down?

Noon, the radiator grill
Groaned, gave off a lesser chill
So that we could take off our coats.
The pipes coughed to clear their throats.

Our nerves were frayed like ravelled sleeves,
We cherished each our minor griefs
To keep them warm until the night,
When it was time again to fight;

But we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.

—Dahlov Ipcar (1917-2017)

One little alley cat singing a solo.
All alone in the lonesome street,
Nothing to eat.
Pity a kitty
Singing a lonely ditty.
One little alley cat
Singing her own song,
A lone song,
A solo.

Two little alley cats singing a duet.
Out on the backyard fences,
Out of their senses.
Caterwauling and bawling,
Wailing and calling.
Two little alley cats
Singing a love song,
A heaven-above song,
A duet.

Three little alley cats singing a trio.
Out in the rainy night,
Under the dim street light.
Singing in rain-fog and wheezing,
Shivering there and sneezing.
Three little alley cats
Singing wet songs,
In rain-fog,
A trio.

Four little alley cats sing a quartet.
Out in the wind and the weather.
Huddling together.
Rain in their cold wet fur;
Still they can purr.
Four little alley cats
Singing a sweet song,
A city street song,
A quartet.

—Gerald Stern (b. 1925)

This was gruesome—fighting over a ham sandwich                  
with one of the tiny cats of Rome, he leaped
on my arm and half hung on to the food and half
hung on to my shirt and coat. I tore it apart
and let him have his portion, I think I lifted him
down, sandwich and all, on the sidewalk and sat
with my own sandwich beside him, maybe I petted
his bony head and felt him shiver. I have
told this story over and over; some things
root in the mind; his boldness, of course, was frightening
and unexpected—his stubbornness—though hunger
drove him mad. It was the breaking of boundaries,
the sudden invasion, but not only that it was
the sharing of food and the sharing of space; he didn't
run into an alley or into a cellar,
he sat beside me, eating, and I didn't run
into a trattoria, say, shaking,
with food on my lips and blood on my cheek, sobbing;
but not only that, I had gone there to eat
and wait for someone. I had maybe an hour
before she would come and I was full of hope
and excitement. I have resisted for years
interpreting this, but now I think I was given
a clue, or I was giving myself a clue,
across the street from the glass sandwich shop.
That was my last night with her, the next day
I would leave on the train for Paris and she would
meet her husband. Thirty-five years ago
I ate my sandwich and moaned in her arms, we were
dying together; we never met again
although she was pregnant when I left her—I have
a daughter or son somewhere, darling grandchildren
in Norwich, Connecticut, or Canton, Ohio.
Every five years I think about her again
and plan on looking her up. The last time
I was sitting in New Brunswick, New Jersey,
and heard that her husband was teaching at Princeton,
if she was still married, or still alive, and tried
calling. I went that far. We lived
in Florence and Rome. We rowed in the bay of Naples
and floated, naked, on the boards. I started
to think of her again today. I still
am horrified by the cat's hunger. I still
am puzzled by the connection. This is another
insane devotion, there must be hundreds, although
it isn't just that, there is no pain, and the thought
is fleeting and sweet. I think it's my own dumb boyhood,
walking around with Slavic cheeks and burning
stupid eyes. I think I gave the cat
half of my sandwich to buy my life, I think
I broke it in half as a decent sacrifice.
It was this I bought, the red coleus,
the split rocking chair, the silk lampshade.
Happiness. I watched him with pleasure.
I bought memory. I could have lost it.
How crazy it sounds. His face twisted with cunning.
The wind blowing through his hair. His jaw working.


Today’s LittleNip:
Amorous cat, alas
You too must yowl with your love...
or even worse, without!




For more about Dahlov Ipcar, go to

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