A Man and his Cat
This poem was written around 1980, about a good friend of mine at the time, Mark Joslin. The occasion was a conversation in which he described unearthing his adolescent poetry at his parents' house, and being embarrassed by its pompous philosophic generalities and overblown melodramatic emotion. He also told me he'd had a thing for putting "un-" in front of words -- whether as an attempt at understatement or archness, he didn't say. What he did say, though, was that one line in one of his poems was "from some unfunny basement." When I stopped rolling on the pavement in laughter, I asked if I could use his line in a poem. He thought it would be a great joke, and he agreed.
This poem is kind of like those rooms in magazines that have been decorated around the colours and patterns of an old quilt or something -- the pattern piece being his "text," which is, of course, the punch line. The setting is his apartment, with its dark gray kitchen, and Fanchette, his tabby cat is purring near a teapot I made (and gave to Mark after he admired it -- it was a handbuilt porcelain pot of a jasmine-bush). The line "scumbling something...together" was intended to give a sense of a kitchen-y scrambling of eggs or something, but in fact, Mark did his pastel paintings in his kitchen, scumbling (building up semi-opaque overlapping layers of colour) being a technique he used a lot, without knowing its name. That, and the reference to Fanchette, were a bit teasing: Fanchette was very demanding, and disliked being left alone. She had a penchant for destroying things -- including fine pottery: I always thought it funny that even though she loved curling round my teapot, she never broke it (though she routinely went up onto impossibly high shelves to break other things).
And, of course, Mark always maintained his eyes were gray. I like the image of the "brilliant gas-stove blue," which I have just suddenly realized is an allusion to a line from Steven Leacock's Nonsense Novels, "Her gaze was as gaze-like as a gazelle or a gas-pipe," one of my favourite lines from the book. Not a very serious poem, just a fun excuse to use the last line, and a bit of a portrait sketch of Mark in his habitat at the time.
We lost touch over the years, and I was sorry to hear Mark died of leukemia in November last year. I still think of him as he was in those days of this poem. This kind of poem is a bit like an old photograph, in that way.
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