Sunday, August 8, 2010

Elegy for a Dying Cat

This has been a hard week at Chez Abrams.  On Thursday, we got the news that our two-year-old cat has cancer.  He is my daughter's cat, but for the last eight months he has belonged to all of us: my wife, my daughter, and me.  He came west with my daughter when she moved back into the empty nest.  My wife helped drive the tightly-packed car from Georgia to Montana; the cat spent much of the time sleeping on top of her head.  We all still laugh at the story of how, after someone released a particularly noxious fart in the car, Gonzo stepped across my wife's lap, put his paws on the buttons of the door console, and unwittingly lowered the window.  It was a classic sitcom moment--something we all could use more of in our daily lives.

Our cat is the color of licorice and slips through the rooms of this large house like a dark reassurance.  Where's Gonzo?  Ah, there he is in the window, on the sun-drenched chair cushion, swirling around the table legs, fluffing himself a nocturnal nest in the crook of our knees when we're asleep.  It seems he has always been there; it's hard to fathom that his blackness will soon be blankness.

Gonzo Is My Co-Pilot

I don't always get sentimental about our pets, but when I do, I usually turn to poetry.  This is what I wrote this morning.

A Week, Two Weeks, Six Months

Our dying cat crouches
Above a plate of Meow Mix
As if recalling his days as a lion
Slurping a zebra on the savannah.
He remembers all the things he never knew.
Legs tucked, shoulders cutting the air,
He goes to town on the herbed chicken in gravy
Like it was his last meal.

Which it could very well be.

We are just back from the vet,
Tear-streaked and disoriented,
Trying to adjust to this new time limit
Imposed by the tumor pushing
All the important organs to one side.
The warden of our cat’s new prison, the vet said:
“A week, two weeks, six months at the outside.”

We stopped at Safeway on the way home.
Dry food seemed like a punishment now,
So we decided that from this day forward
Every day would be a birthday
Full of moist treats easy on the throat
And the wrongly squeezed stomach.

We stand in the kitchen, looking down
At the way he’s buried
His face in the food.
Someone should say a few words
At a moment like this.
My wife and daughter weep in tandem.
We are not consoled by the fact
There will be other cats.
“Yes,” my daughter says in vibrato,
“But they won’t be this cat.”
We stare at the floor, the walls, the ceiling,
Each in separate cells of grief.

Our dying cat, possessively crouched
Over his unexpected ambrosia,
Knows nothing of this, probably doesn’t even care.
He can’t hear the clock under his ribs
Ticking toward his funeral.
Focused on tongue-lap and tooth-grab,
He only feels the primal joy
Of the chicken that goes down like zebra.
He can’t even taste the tears
We stirred into the food.


  1. Ah David, I'm so sorry. I know you'll make the rest of his stay on earth wonderful for him, not that that makes it any easier for you. But he'll feel the love for sure.

  2. thanks for this. when I had to put my (old) first ever cat to sleep in 1999, I wept more than I ever thought I would, holding her little deceased body in the shoe box in the car. that's when I decided I would make Jim go with me ..the next time...for the next cat..which would hopefully be a long time. but two years old. not good. touching piece. (Linda F.)