Monday, February 21, 2011

Beauty Breathes: Why Poetry Matters Edition

Beauty Breathes: Why Poetry Matters Edition

"...let it be known you’re willing to suffer
only in proportion to your errors,
not one unfair moment more.
Insist on this as if it could be granted:
not one moment more."

--From "Talk to God" by Stephen Dunn

It’s day nine of my cat-of-eleven-years Zooey’s disappearance, and I’m afraid I have become one of those slightly embarrassing, sad-washed people who no longer have the ability to fake it long enough to sustain proper social behavior. I awoke yet again uncharacteristically early this morning, after having an awful dream in which Zooey was carted off by a shady entity called “The Dark Carnival”. (I’m pretty sure that weird little quirk of the imagination was dredged up from a long-buried memory of having read Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” when I was fourteen.) I managed to get (sort of) dressed and convince myself that I looked perfectly normal, then drove to the local office supply store to get neon-colored paper and thumbtacks for our postering campaign.

As I was tacking up posters on the telephone pole outside the senior living building by my apartment, an elderly man limped down the stairs, coffee in hand. “Are you the one who was wandering through here last night poking around with a flashlight?” he asked. I said that yes, indeed, I was. “I was wondering what you were looking for,” he said, peering at my LOST CAT poster. “Well, she is a fine-looking girl, isn’t she?” he added. I felt a completely unreasonable surge of pride. “Yes, she is,” I said, thinking, yes, she is a great-looking cat, and I picked her out, and she’s always been exceptionally beautiful as well as extremely clever." He assured me he would keep an eye out for her, then ambled back up the stairs to his apartment.

Every time we visit the city animal shelter to look for her, the volunteers there are extremely kind. They’ve been very forthcoming with lost-pet-finding tips, and they keep telling us not to give up. Last night, we had a very helpful consultation with Sharon, a detective from The Missing Pet Partnership, who was also very kind and understanding, and urged us to keep looking no matter what. And one of my colleagues from my days in healing work set me up with Heather Faris, an animal communicator from Canada who offered me a pro-bono phone session. I'm very grateful for everyone's empathy and kindness, and that no one so far has said, "It's just a cat, for Godsake; you can always get another one."

I’ve been trying to focus on writing poetry this weekend, but I’m too torn up. I realized that this is a weekend for reading poetry, not writing poetry. I’ve been making my way through Stephen Dunn’s volume, “What Goes On”, and I’ve found it to be enormously comforting and affirming. It’s exactly the kind of poetry that I want to be able to write—accessible, but full of depth, delicate but impactful, real, honest, and strangely comforting in its ruthlessness. One of the poems that has especially resonated with me is,Talk to God. (The link will take you to the text and audio.)

During the days when life is rolling along okay, I encourage you to start amassing a few books of poetry that will provide you solace during the hard times. Mary Oliver is a great one to start with, as are Raymond Carver, Rita Dove, Anne Sexton, and Erin Belieu. But look on your own, too. You might come across someone I’ve never heard of, and if you do, please share it with me. And, in the comments section, please share with me which poets (or lyricists) you turn to for comfort in times of grieving and hardship. Let's help each other get a collection going to arm us in the rough times--and to deepen our souls when better times return.

--Kristen McHenry


Karen Nichols said...

Kristen, I will pray that you find your cat. It's a tortuous thing to go through.

I have a post on Pet Recovery, and urge you to read it... it describes several unconventional means of getting your cat back home. Post is here:

I personally know two cat owners whose cats were found six months after they first went missing. The key was, neither gave up hope, and they continued to look for their cats every single day. Miracles do happen.


Rallentanda said...

How about offering a reward on the poster.She might have been kidnapped as she is a pedigree cat.Sometimes they get locked in garages or the go around and check locked garages or ware houses in your areal

Keep checking the lost animal places and pounds even if they say she is not there. Terrible business losing a loved one.I refuse to associate with anyone who regards animals as lesser creatures.

It only happened to me once many years ago. My dog went missing. I rang the Council who pick up unescorted dogs in the park. They said they didn 't have him.I knew he would never leave us and something was wrong. A couple of weeks later I was relating the story to a taxi driver and he said I should ring the Council again because they were a bunch of unreliable jerks...I did and they had in fact picked up my dog on the day I called them before. I drove like a maniac and just got to the dog's home in time..poor darling was on death row (after two weeks unclaimed dogs get murdered...euthanased is a bull shit term) This was in 1979 and I still remember it like it was I know how you are suffering...Keep positive and focus your energy on willing Zooey to come back.

When things go wrong I turn to music,buy lots of flowers,
and go swimming in the ocean where I commune with my both my deceased grandfather and a personal God who incidentally saved me from drowning last Sunday. I never seek words out in crisis so suppose I am not a poet after all!
Crossing my fingers and toes

Kristen McHenry said...

Karen, your article was great--thank you for sharing the link! I've done most of the things on the list, but not all of them. The cat suit move was ingenius!

Rallentanda--your description of what you do "when things go wrong" is lovely. I don't think that makes you any less of a poet--in fact, I think it makes you more of a poet.

Zooey is microchipped and I've alerted all of the vets in the area to check any Maine Coons that are brought in for a chip. If she was taken by someone (which is the best-case scenario at this point), hopefully that will help them get her back to me. Thank your for your continued kind words.

Jo-Ann said...

Kristen... has Zooey always lived with you at your current home? If not, have you checked previous neighbourhoods where she was born or lived for only a bit.
Karen is right in the determination of cats to live and come back home. I've heard some incredible stories of, well, incredible journeys that cats have undertaken,

thinking of you, Jo-Ann