for Miss M H
Her companions, her babies,
hopping in and out of open
with gourmet food.
For herself, she cut back,
the odd bet, a furry Oxfam hat.
Other than that she's frugal,
hardly eats, buys a few cigarettes,
sips tea from a cracked brown mug.
She see things last: that dress,
those heels, pencil-drawn seams.
It can be cold but she copes
has her big soft bonnet,
a head as hot as an astronaut.
Authorities let you down: men,
the letter reminds her of that: WAAF,
officer class, a looker, Captain John said
as he fingered her skinny legs. Shapely,
he said, like Fontaine, Hepburnesque. Style.
Good breeding. Shoulders back my gal.
All in order. Bringing her Estée Lauder,
unpinning her French pleat.
She reads it twice
lets the threat sink in:
the Council have written to say
either the cats go
or she must
find somewhere else to stay.
It's for your own good Nanny said:
and when I was sick
pushing that poisonous medicine
down my throat.
If you don't want
to be a stick when you grow up,
you need feeding, eat this.
I remember the blue-eyed daisies
embroidered across my pillow
turning wet. No strength to get up,
no will to resist, resist evil.
Good girl, she said, I am trying hard.
Good girl, take this. I swallow.
When the eviction notice came
I had nowhere to live,
no way of knowing how to fight.
Took it like a kitten
the man in the betting shop said,
steadying my hands with his,
offering to let me move in.
All cats welcome.
I mistook him.
Couldn't spot a trickster
if he bit me on the leg.
A privileged upbringing
lead me to learn nothing except:
Manners maketh the lady.
After I left the man
from the betting shop
who lied about liking cats,
I moved to a place where evil lived
under the floor, behind flowered
paper, in the walls, in the brick.
No one would believe it.
When I came here to the unit
they gave me a shared room
which they tell me is very nice,
not like that pure evil house,
but when I try to get out
to find my cats, I have no strength,
can't budge the locked doors one inch.
A voice crackles as if I am forgotten
in the realms of real existence.
It asks questions from a desert,
India, or Texas, a launch pad?
Who my friends are, neighbours,
relatives? My bug eyes, its antenna.
My bug ears hearing,
my arm lifting to touch.
A distant cousin, yes, and one friend,
Teresa from County Down. Yes.
We had that same connection,
and our mutual love of cats.
Does she know about this place?
Me locked in here? My section?
My second lot. Electric shock
makes you forget.
Don't bother to dress
nurse says, put on this gown,
Open up. Place this rubber
in your mouth,
My body fits,
rises from the trolley;
railings roll towards me,
my plucked eyebrows
like strands of marmalade.
What did I like, music on the wireless?
There were railings outside
that man's house, where my babies
weaved in and out. The man I met
in the betting shop who lied about
liking cats to get into my good books.
This is noxious. I hold it in,
it's for my benefit, they say.
I am sicker than last time,
must swallow it. Want to be good.
Good girl. Concentrate: white beads,
plastic. Nurse says everything will leave
me: demons, evil voices, torment.
Forget my entire life.
I know only that I exist.
I hear things; have senses.
White beads and plastic:
I have this radio, listen,
look, my hands
are at the controls.
I can alter the volume,
turn it up or down.
Turn it up or down,
alter the volume,
This radio set,
white beads and plastic,
all that's left.
That house, its icy rooms
Men who let you down.
My loyal cats.
Beloveds. I am
trying to be good,
reach for the antenna,
voices crackling in the desert
where everything is foreign.
My birthplace in Africa,
the names of my cats vaulting
through my brain. Spores of fur
that leave no trace:
Colonel Redvers', Jasper's, Tiddles'.
Kathleen Kenny lives and writes in Newcastle upon Tyne. She is currently working on a novel which has the working title of The Dolcie, and is putting the finishing touches to Travelling Like Eggs: a poetry collection due from Red Squirrel Press in 2011. Her previous collections include Sex & Death (Diamond Twig, 2000, reprinted 2003); Goosetales and Other Flights (Koo Press, 2007); Firesprung (Red Squirrel Press, 2008); Sandblasting the Cave (Flarestack, 2009); Keening with Spittal Tongues (Red Squirrel Press, 2009); Hole (Smokestack, 2009).
Her work also appears in many small press magazines and anthologies, with publications all over the British Isles and in the United States. Most recently her poems appeared in Not a Muse, an anthology of women's poetry published by Haven Press, Hong Kong.
Kathleen has given readings of her poetry all over England, Scotland, and Ireland, in venues including libraries, theatres, pubs, clubs, and galleries. She earns her living as a freelance writing tutor, and runs workshops throughout the north east of England where she was born and brought up. It is from her Irish/Geordie background that her writing takes much of its inspiration and influence.
The poem Cat Woman is about a person cast into a system with little regard for the delicate individual. It is related in ten 14-line sections, and shows 'Cat Woman' being subjected to electric shock 'therapy'. The 'care' she receives is designed to subdue her and her memories but cannot quite obliterate the names of her confiscated cats: her beloveds.
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Cat Woman © 2010 Kathleen Kenny: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.