Friday, October 24, 2008

Two rooms on 55th Street were her domain.....


This is another of the photos I took during my first trip to New York City in 1990. A few night ago I remembered this poem so pulled my old copy of Rod McKuen's Listen to the Warm off the shelf from one of the bookcases upstairs. McKuen was wildly popular in the 1960s, later falling into disfavor as his poetry was considered trite. It had been decades since I held the book in my hand and I must admit I had a sentimental reunion with Sloopy.


A Cat Named Sloopy

1

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she'd sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We'd talk into the night then
contented
but missing something,
She the earth she never knew
me the hills I ran
while growing bent.
Sloopy should have been a cowboy's cat
with prairies to run
not linoleum
and real-live catnip mice.
No one to depend on but herself.
I never told her
but in my mind
I was a midnight cowboy even then.
Riding my imaginary horse
down Forty-second Street,
going off with strangers
to live an hour-long cowboy's life,
but always coming home to Sloopy,
who loved me best.

2

A dozen summers
we lived against the world.
An island on an island.
She'd comfort me with purring
I'd fatten her with smiles.
We grew rich on trust
needing not the beach or butterflies
I had a friend named Ben
Who painted buildings like Roualt men.
He went away.
My laughter tired Lillian
after a time
she found a man who only smiled.
Only Sloopy stay and stayed.
Winter.
Nineteen fifty-nine.
Old men walk their dogs.
Some are walked so often
that their feet leave
little pink tracks
in the soft gray snow.
Women fur on fur
elegant and easy
only slightly pure
hailing cabs to take them
round the block and back.
Who is not a love seeker
when December comes?
even children pray to Santa Claus.
I had my own love safe at home
and yet I stayed out all one night
the next day too.

3

They must have thought me crazy
screaming
Sloopy
Sloopy
as the snow came falling
down around me.
I was a madman
to have stayed away
one minute more
than the appointed hour.
I'd like to think a golden cowboy
snatched her from the window sill,
and safely saddlebagged
she rode to Arizona.
She's stalking lizards
in the cactus now perhaps
bitter but free.
I'm bitter too
and not a free man any more.
Once was a time,
in New York's jungle in a tree,
before I went into the world
in search of other kinds of love
nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy.
Looking back
perhaps she's been
the only human thing
that ever gave back love to me.


"A Cat Named Sloopy" is from the book Listen To The Warm published by Random House.
Copyright Rod McKuen 1963-1967


11 comments:

Carlos Lorenzo said...

I have read it. It is almost prose. Beautifully narrated. Maybe she is running between the cactus somewhere. I like those images the author creates in an apparent simple way but so richful in our mind. First I thought, well, a cat and then I found a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it. I also like the fact that an old book brings back memories to you. I know how it feels :)

Jennifer said...

I have this strange relationship with poetry -- maybe there was too much of it when I was growing up, too many conversations and arguments about it (there could be worse ways to grow up, I suppose) -- but I find that many poems intimidate me. What are they supposed to mean? Will I get it wrong or over-interpret?

McKuen's poem is clear. And sad. The photograph is a perfect companion to it.

colleen said...

He certainly did introduce a lot of people to poetry. This one makes me want to sing Hang on Sloopy out loud.

colleen said...

PS OMG I'm 12 years older than my husband too. Although I usually lie about it and say that the difference is only 10. Round down.

PS I came via Embodied Aging.

Buddha said...

this photo reminds me of the old country... it gives me a wary, nostalgic, weird feeling... I'll call it "the beauty in the beast"

Elizabeth said...

I have never read that poem, but I loved it.

Lisa Allender said...

Love the photo. I hadn't popped in in a while. Glad to see you are posting a variety of things!
I'm getting weary of political stuff, though I'm still addicted to keeping up with it!

Lydia said...

Carlos,
When you wrote "beautifully narrated" I wondered if you'd heard McKuen reading this poem and others? Honest, this is the truth, I had an 8-track tape of him reading from the book. His voice was really gravel-y as I recall, and I also recall my mother kinda swooning over the voice. A lot of memories have been stirred by looking at the book once again.

Jennifer,
Thanks about the photo.
I've sensed from some of your posts that you have that relationship with poetry. (Most people don't have a relationship with it at all, strange or otherwise!) I wonder what it would have been like growing up in a house where people conversed and argued about poetry.....sounds like you felt always on the spot.

Colleen,
It sure was fun to have both of your messages after this post, and I appreciate your letting me know you came via Embodied Aging. Needless to say, I think we are kindreds for sharing that marital age thing. I'll be by your blog soon and hope you visit mine often.

Buddha,
Your description of the sense you got from the photo was so poetic that it was a lovely addendum to the post. Thank you.

Lisa,
I feel guilty because it's been about a week since I was over at your blog, but I'll correct that error soon! Agree about the political scene; at this point I'm hyperventilating as I keep track of daily happenings.

Lydia said...

Elizabeth,
Gads, so sorry to miss replying to you in the mix with all the others. I'm so glad you loved the poem. It's one you'll likely never forget (I didn't). I just left you a long comment at your blog about an autumn colors trip to check out in Oregon...

distracted by shiny objects said...

OMG...Rod McKuen...it's like hearing a song that you haven't heard since high school and remembering EVERY SINGLE WORD. I inhaled and exhaled that man--much to the chagrin of my high school honey/1st hubby/ex-hubby(all the same man). Such drama and angst there was.

Lydia said...

Distracted,
"Inhaled and exhaled" ..... yes, I certainly get that description! So funny that it ruffled the sensibilities of the guy. I don't recall discussing it with my high school boyfriend, although I probably did. He wrote me a sonnet in our senior year; it was really good but it wasn't Sloopy!

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