Here’s a poem …

les chats de la victoire

Les chats de la victoire (Photo credit: Isaszas)

Here’s a poem *not* about cats (well, maybe!) by J. Stephen Rhodes from the journal qarrtsiluni’s recent “Animals In The City” issue. I think he captures cats’ moods and behaviors perfectly:


You can’t write a poem about cats,
some professor said some time ago,
so this is not about them and how
they might run this old city that slopes
down to the Cote d’Azur and draws
in the sea. And, why should anyone bother
to describe the water either, blue beyond
blue, what Plato would have called the color’s
essence. So, this is not about how
each yard in the Cite Medieval has
at least two chats—landed gentry—
black, white or gray typically
but also the occasional yellow
or brown, though these latter figure more
in alleys, les chats ordinaires,
sleeping with legs or tails draped over walls
built during the time of Francis the First,
Charles of Anjou, or Julius Caesar.

You can’t write about them, even though
they’ve been here since the Phoenicians,
maybe, and if that’s the case they might
have been chasing rats onto triremes
from Egypt itself, mother of all
their unmentionable kind, perhaps.

Nor should you describe how they stroll
on the Avenue du General De Gaulle
past Jeff de Brugges and other fine stores,
tails erect, on the lookout for good deals
like everyone else. In windows, on stoops,
you can’t mention their toilettes or their naps,
or the occasional rendez-vous, either
courteous or, it must be said, sometimes rude.

All this having not been said, as they
are beneath some people’s notice, one might not
want to add that we, being human,
are beneath theirs, as well, and thus stare
with the same perplexity some of us share.

— J. Stephen Rhodes


Btw, I also have a poem in the same issue, but mine is about bees!


“A Couple Of Wittgensteins Slinking…”

In solidarity with our winter-bound friends on the East coast, here is a lovely short essay on ‘the mind of
winter’ by poet Charles Simic. It’s on the New York Review of Books blog.

Note the essay’s fourth section, in which he imagines the natural philosophizing of cow, dog, and cat around him–those “Wittgensteins slinking around back porches in the vicinity.”

So, if your cat were a philosopher, which one would s/he be?

I’ll have to think about that one because I can’t really think of Callie thinking, but rather as purely existing. That makes me think of her (as with our perception of all cats) as a Zen practitioner.

But that is a well-worn trope and probably a facile misreading (either of cats or of Zen). Maybe I should rephrase this and ask what Western philosopher’s thought a cat would exemplify.

Simic invokes Wittgenstein; I don’t know enough philosophy to have an opinion.


Read his essay here:

Callie on a footstool-cum-meditation bench


A Visual Poem (In Calico Colors)

I wanted to share a piece called “High Density” by Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 1999) because of the text and the colors she used. It is a visual poem–or Vispo–done in a beautiful calico palette. I can’t get it to embed correctly, so here it a link to it on the tumblr blog of visual poet Anatol Knotek:

Now that I did that, Zemanta/Wordpress is suggesting these other art works–in the calico palette. How can it tell what I mean by that?? I mean, is it making visual matches, or does the search feature understand what ‘calico’ means?

But wait! I guess I should have done my research before posting, hmm? Zemanta just knows Rosalie Gascoigne’s work when it sees her name. It didn’t give me her name with the captions provided (see below), but the first two are her work. I don’t know why the second one says “Gascoigne Monaro,” except that I learned she lived in the Monaro area (in Australia) at some point.

Here is a link to a gallery/site about her work:


Metropolis, 1999 (detail)

Metropolis, 1999 (detail) (Photo credit: aur2899)

gascoigne monaro

Gascoigne Monaro (Photo credit: One Thousand Words)

Poem and calligraph

Poem and calligraph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The Cats Will Know” (Cesare Pavese)

Here is a depths-of-the-year, broken-hearted-lover poem from Italian poet Cesare Pavese. The poet looks ruefully forward to the “light rains” and “hyacinth dawns” of spring … with cats.

Here is an excerpt from the poem:

“The cats . . .
are the sad smile
you smile by yourself.”

Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation website:

The Word “Calico”

I was thinking about the origin of the word calico and decided I should do a little searching. One of the first things I found was this blog post, from a fun Google Search-themed blong, on the definition of “calico”:

Calico loom

Calico loom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, the premise of the blog itself is interesting–Carly searches for any and everything on Google and posts the results of those searches. So Carly’s mention of the weavers of Calicut and the “calico” fabric that made its way to England made me think I’d better go to the source, the Oxford English Dictionary, to get the history of the word “calico”‘s adoption in English. Here’s the OED’s etymology for calico:

“Pronunciation:  /ˈkælɪkəʊ/

Forms:  α. 15 ( Calȝecot), callicutt, 15–16 calecut, 15–17 callicutcalicut, 15-16 calicute, 16–17 callicot. β. 15 kalykocalyco,calocowe, ( callagacallaca), 15–17 callico(e, 16–17 calicoe, 16– calico.
Etymology:  In 16–17th cent. also calicut , from the name of the Indian city (sense 1), called in Malayalam Kōlịkōdụ, in Arabic Qaliqūt, medieval Latin (Conti) Collicuthia, Portuguese Qualecut (V. de Gama), Calecut (Camoens). It is not clear how the form calico, occurring in 1540 as kalyko, arose; it may have been merely an English corruption; the French calicot has been suggested as the intermediate form, but the age of this is uncertain.”

So even the OED doesn’t know that much about it! I like how the etymology trails off into speculation–that a French word may have been involved–but doesn’t bother going into it. That’s lazy, or at least overly brief research, in my book! I’ll look into the French etymology of calicot another time and see what that yields.

Now here is another–more colorful (yes, calico)–definition of calico from the Free Dictionary:

Noun 1. calico – coarse cloth with a bright print

clothfabrictextilematerial – artifact made by weaving or felting or knitting or crocheting natural or synthetic fibers; “the fabric in the curtains was light and semitransparent”; “woven cloth originated in Mesopotamia around 5000 BC”; “she measured off enough material for a dress”
Adj. 1. calico – made of calico or resembling calico in being patterned; “calico dresses”; “a calico cat”
2. calico - having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightlycalico – having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly; “a jester dressed in motley”; “the painted desert”; “a particolored dress”; “a piebald horse”; “pied daisies”

coloredcolouredcolorful – having color or a certain color; sometimes used in combination; “colored crepe paper”; “the film was in color”; “amber-colored heads of grain”

I particularly like that this definition brings in the word “motley,” “piebald,” and “pied”–I like that they are so many ways that we try to represent that mixed, the mutt, the blended, the brinded, and the tutti-fruitti that is our world.  I especially love the mention of “pied daises” in the definition above, because that brings us back to G.M. Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty,” which is the poetic theme song, if you will, for Catty Callie!

"When daisies pied" Swanage, Dorset

“When daisies pied” Swanage, Dorset (Photo credit: Alwyn Ladell)

The phrase “When daisies pied” comes from a song at the close of Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour Lost. It starts as a celebration of spring, but ends with a caution to married men to know that the sound of the cuckoo means they could be cuckolds:

“When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men . . . .”

And to close, here is a “pied” bird from India, to keep with the ‘calico’-came-from-Calcutta topic:

Pied Starling in India

Pied Starling in India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those “red staggered tortoiseshells springing”

Here are excerpts from “who put on our shoes,” a lovely poem by Rozalie Hirs, translated from Dutch by Donald Gardner, and published in Joyland Poetry (

River birch bark

River birch bark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


there look at those wild-strawberry leaves purring a little
cat between thorns where a tree shakes its swaying antlers
by skeletal islands dry-as-dust wind

 swift cuts a tail into two points punt drifts
 riverbanks to my right-as-rain roses on hairpin legs
 toes with thoughts and tongue in cheek clacking
 the buds burst out of their husks happy to be alive I am
 a daybreak lilac when its bursting spray allows
 and birch bark curls dance in wind
[  . . . . ]
with pomegranate leaves their scarlet hairs
I see loosestrife rooting through fields
weeds cuttings of horsetails a land full of may
moisten earth to sow spring ask mountains the time
not to be spun fine pale yellow plumed thistles not to come too close
pods float in ditches reflect white elderberry sprays
a smell wrapped in jasmine hats lost on air
speckled mossy green climb with daisy stalks
ladders along hair pupating into peacock butterflies
 [ . . . . ]
in knuckles little daggers of burning larch needles
always stab red staggered tortoiseshells springing where
hogweed grows beside pale birch bark bees zoom
the moon its antics see flagellates springing nightingale
then I eat belladonna slimy frogs legs hop
in curling beck between the script of tiny scots pines
bellowing sea joy billowing honey streams of cotton grass
bones of verge grass batter against a hill beacons
in the distance ships understand mirroring each other to shards

[Translated by Donald Gardner for StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival, March 2012, with financial support from the Dutch Foundation for Literature, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. © 2012 Donald Gardner, Rozalie Hirs.]

I think this is beautiful ‘calico aesthetics’–not because it uses red, black, and white colors per se, but because it enacts a synaesthetic meld of sense perceptions and levels of dictions that doesn’t obscure each element. It doesn’t turn what’s calico–with its distinct but related aspects–into a tortie or tabby’s muddled gradations of color.

The poet celebrates the scene’s “wild-strawberry,” “swaying antlers,” and “cat between thorns” multidimensionality. There are “pomegranate leaves [with] their scarlet hairs” and “white elderberry sprays.” There’s the black-green of “tiny scots pines” and “belladonna,” so the calico color array is in fact invoked.

English: Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) at Å...

English: Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) at Ålö in Stockholm archipelago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we know that sometimes the Europeans call their calicos tortoiseshells, and since the poem opens with “there look . . . purring a little/cat between thorns” and moves finally to the “burning larch needles [which] always stab red staggered tortoiseshells springing,” I think this poem is about how integral “a little/cat” is to nature’s panoply. The poem portrays this panoply by layered, abutted descriptions, up to and including “peacock butterflies.”

Here is an image of what we’d probably call a calico in the U.S., but is called a tortie because she’s in England:

English: Billie, a female one-year-old tortie ...

English: Billie, a female one-year-old tortie and white cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The image of “peacock butterflies” is itself a chimera–a double-natured creature–and indicates the strangely genre-gender-bending and anthropomorphizing that Hirs establishes as the reality in the cosmos of this poem.

N.B., See Venus the Two-Faced Cat Still a Mystery ( for more on the chimera cat whose image I put in an earlier post.

A Calico Aesthetic

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary (4) (Photo credit: Michael Lai)

I’m calling this a ‘calico photo’, not because it’s a photo of a calico cat, but because the photo itself is suffused with orange, white, and black tones. I love the black cat who looks so small but vivid on this cobblestone street in Riga, Latvia.

I’m starting to think there’s a visual ‘calico aesthetic’. I think we feel that orange, black, and white ‘go together’ because they co-occur in the coat colors of so many animals–as I show here. I think people may be drawn to this calico aesthetic in other contexts because they love it in cats and dogs–the animals with which people are most intimate.

This is kind of funny to say, but it only just dawned on me a couple of weeks ago that even one of our horses is almost a calico! She’s a buckskin Appaloosa–actually a Pony of the Americas (or POA) because she is small. But instead of orange, she has a tawny gold coat accented by a black mane and tail, and of course the white Appy spots.

It’s weird that I didn’t think of her as being a calico, because her name was Callie (short for her registered name of Calico’s Painted Dream) when we bought her. Duh! We dropped the C and called her Allie since we already had Callie the cat!

Now look at the template for this blog–it’s a WordPress theme called “Sunspot.” As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect template because of the color combination! If I’m right that we’ve developed a calico aesthetic because of what we like in animals, then it’s become a schema that we both seek out and from which we create. That’s what I see at work in the photo above and in the template for this blog.

I’ll be looking for this calico aesthetic at work in other places beyond the animal world, as did Gerard Manley Hopkins, who celebrated an aesthetic of the “pied” and the “dappled” in his famous poem “Pied Beauty,” which you’ll find here:

If I follow Hopkins (and I do), a calico aesthetic appreciates the variegation we love in “stipple upon trout” and “couple-colour brinded cows” in places far beyond the animal. He sees it in the “landscape plotted and pieced,” and in:

“All things counter, original, spare, strange;

    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim . . . . “

Hopkins says that the couple-colour (or calico) aesthetic is found in the composite; the oxymoronic; and the  strange, fickle original. Be on the lookout for the visual–or poetic–‘calico aesthetic’ out there, then share it, if you will!

P.S.  Check out Michael Lai’s blog, retireediary, for many more exquisitely beautiful photos from his travels all over the world.