Ferlinghetti ‘s Cat and Dog

The Cat

The cat
licks its paw and
lies down in
the bookshelf nook
She
can lie in a
sphinx position
without moving for so
many hours
and then turn her head
to me and
rise and stretch
and turn
her back to me and
lick her paw again as if
no real time had passed
It hasn’t
and she is the sphinx with
all the time in the world
in the desert of her time
The cat
knows where flies die
sees ghosts in motes of air
and shadows in sunbeams
She hears
the music of the spheres and
the hum in the wires of houses
and the hum of the universe
in interstellar spaces
but
prefers domestic places
and the hum of the heater

Simplicity itself and a pleasant poem for cat lovers who recognize the truth.

There may be some great deep meaning here that I miss, but even if I’ve missed it, I can say the poem succeeds with the images of the cat on the bookshelf in a sphinx position, unmoving. When she rises, turning her back to the writer “no real time has past” the cat knows that and the writer learns that too--emphasize the word real. ”she is the sphinx with all the time in the world in the desert of her time.”

“The cat knows where flies die sees ghosts in motes of air and shadows in sunbeams...” she knows the mysteries of the earth.

Then the point:
she hears...the hum in the wires of house and the hum of the universe...
but prefers domestic places and the hum of the heater.

Perhaps in a way humans have the knowledge of cats if we would admit it--we hear the music of the spheres...the hum of the universe and prefer the hum of the heater. Perhaps humans should learn to be satisfied with that--as satisfied as the cat.

Dog

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in the doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn’t hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit's Tower
and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee
He’s afraid of Coit’s Tower
but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
barking democratic dog
engaged in real free enterprise
with something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at streetcorners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master’s Voice
and looking
like a living questionmark
into the
great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

Ferlinghetti could have named this poem “Man” and described a human walking the streets, registering the sounds, but then man’s talent for jealousies and judgments would have clouded the senses. How long do you think we are capable of “trotting freely” in our streets without measuring ourselves against others, desiring a change in ourselves or in others? This is all very Zen like to me.

The dog’s perception of his world is purely sensory--just like ours, I add--We see things bigger than ourselves, smaller than ourselves, we smell things like ourselves, we are discouraged, depressed, saddened by leaders who do stupid things. and we fret and stew, analyze and mostly react in ways that are harmful to ourselves. We need to learn to trot free.

Diane McCormick

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