Monday, April 14, 2008

Blackie in Antarctica (Redux)

Stefanie first posted this poem from Margaret Atwood's The Door. It brought a smile to my face, so I went looking for The Door at the local library this week. As it happens, it is available. Naturally, I borrowed it, found a seat at a coffee shop, and started reading.

Here is the poem in its entirety - because anything worth posting is worth posting twice:

Blackie in Antarctica
by Margaret Atwood

My sister phones long distance:
Blackie’s been put down.
Incurable illness. Gauntness and suffering.
General heartbreak.
I thought you’d want to bury him,
she says, in tears.
So I wrapped him in red silk
and put him in the freezer.

Oh Blackie, named bluntly
and without artifice by small girls,
black cat leaping from roof to roof
in doll’s bonnet and pinafore,
Oh sly fur-faced idol
who endured worship and mauling,
often without scratching,
Oh yowling moon-
addict, devious foundling,
neurotic astrologer
who predicted disaster
by then creating it,

Oh midnight-coloured
faithful companion of midnight,
Oh pillow hog,
with your breath of raw liver,
where are you now?

Beside the frozen hamburger
and chicken wings: a paradise
for carnivore. Lying in red silk
and state, like Pharaoh
in a white metallic temple, or
a thin-boned Antarctic
explorer in a gelid parka,
on who didn’t make it. Or
(let's face it) a package
of fish. I hope nobody
en route to dinner
unwraps you by mistake.

What an affront, to be equated
with meat! Catlike, you hated
being ridiculous. You hungered
for justice, at set hours and in the form of sliced beef stew
with gravy.
You wanted what
was coming to you.
is, though. Ridiculous. And coming to you.
For us too.
Justice is what we’ll turn into.
Then there’s mercy.)

Re-reading "Blackie in Antarctica" still made me smile, because it is so absurd, so touchingly human. Anyone else like the abrupt, bombastic descriptions in the opening stanza?

"Incurable illness. Gauntness and suffering.
General heartbreak."

Feels less like a statement on state of mind, more newspaper headlines; beloved pet or not, this is just a cat, not the pope. The morbid humour in juxtaposting the sister's geniune grief against the ludicrous image of the carcass of the black cat mummified in rich, red silk – neatly tucked into cold storage. Why red silk? A vivid red. Yet it could be worse, I suppose. The cat could have been shrouded in hot pink or fuchsia. In flannel. That would have really been undignified.

"Oh Blackie, named bluntly/and without artifice by small girls". What's wrong with Blackie? Or Cat-Cat :)? Some of us remember how in Good Omens, the Boy Antichrist named his pet Satanic Hell-hound, Dog. Dog was a good, solid doggie name. The kind of name that wags its tail at you. Like naming a Jack Russell, Jack or Russell.


Carl V. Anderson said...

I can relate. I named my childhood companion and friend, my teddy bear, Teddy. And Teddy he remains to this day.

I love this line:

"who predicted disaster
by then creating it,"

Ana S. said...

"Re-reading "Blackie in Antarctica" still made me smile, because it is so absurd, so touchingly human"

It really is. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you found The Door at the library. I still smile when I read the poem too. I love Atwood's dark humor and sense of the absurd.

My mom was rather distressed that I named our cat Cat-Cat. She tried to get me to call her Midnight or Shadow, but two-year-old me either couldn't say those names or simply refused. Cat-Cat didn't seem to mind, she was a stray kitten and just glad that she'd found a home.

Cipriano said...

Maggie is my heroine!
She is my fix.
Poetry or prose, there is no one who brings me quicker to the cash register, with whatever she puts a dustjacket around, for us mortals!
-- Cip

Bybee said...

This makes me want to read more of Atwood's poetry.

darkorpheus said...

Carl Is Teddy still around then? :)

Nymeth You're welcome. But really, people do put their dead pets in the freezer out of love.

Stefanie I was surprised to find The Door. Guess I shouldn't complain about the local library too much.

You had Cat-Cat when you were 2? That's so sweet. Well, at least you didn't name Cat-Cat, "Puppy" -- that would have been confusing.

I gave a pair of hamsters to my colleague's 3 year old son. He named them "A-B-C" and "1-2-3"

Children have the best names for pets, don't they?

Cip You know what - The Door is the first Margaret Atwood book I've ever read. *grin* Never read any of her novels ever. Just never got around to them.

ByBee The Door is a good blend of funny with the insightful. Good to try.