I grew up among heaps of dusty books, and poems read to me every day. After lunch every afternoon my mother would have us sit around her on the couch. She read Bible stories to us and then we could choose from her massive old book selection, what poems we would like to hear. I would spend the afternoons curled up against her while she read. Almost every day my siblings and I would request “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. To spite the horror of the actual tale, we would request it again and again. It was beautifully written, and the imagery, drama, and lively meter enthralled us. She had us memorize various poems. The first I remember learning were “When Frost is On the Punkin’” by James Whitcomb Riley and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.
At seven she gave me a book of Mother Goose, a few years later “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I grew older I found more poems to my liking. A student artist Eddie White wrote a poem called “The Cat Piano” featured in an award-winning short film. It has become my favorite of all poems.
Long ago my city’s luminous heart, beat with the song of four thousand cats.
Crooners who shone in the moonlight mimicry of the spotlight.
Jazz singers. Hip cats that went ‘Scat!’
Buskers with open-mouthed hats hungry for a feed.
Parlours paraded purring glamorous songstresses.
Smoky hookahs and smoking hookers.
Strays strummed string and sung a cocktail of cat’s tails.
A decadent party of meowing sound.
A bohemian behemoth, post-midnight soiree.
Amongst the chorale ‘o tuneful ones was one fair queen who drew me from o’er the way.
Her fur, an amorous white and a voice that made all the angels of eternity sound tone deaf.
Blind with love at first sight, touched by the taste of her sound,
I longed to be the microphone she cradled near her breast.
‘Twas our Shang-ri-la of sound,
A paradise found where nothin’ could stop us.
Or so it seemed.
Singers began to vanish like sailors lost at sea.
Snatched from stage alley way
Shanghai’d from behind scarlet curtain.
Into thin air they disappeared without a single cry.
Police study the clues.
Foot-prints from human shoes.
So you’ve heard of every instrument but?
Torn from your history books is this pianola,
This harpsichord of harm.
The cruelest instrument to spawn from man’s grey cerebral soup.
The Cat Piano.
Confined were the cats in a row of cages.
With each note struck upon it’s ivory tusks,
A sharpened nail would pierce each cat’s tail,
Forcing a note from each pitch on the scale.
I ran my cursed writer’s run to tell her beware.
She wasn’t there.
My soul capsized.
Like a fish, paralyzed.
On a chopping board, its spinal cord ripped forth from its body,
Her vocals the last the thief had needed,
A rare celestial pitch that would complete his collection.
The city in unrest.
Fights broke out in its sleep.
I couldn’t dream anymore.
There was a hole in my heart and everything fell out of it.
All music forbidden.
Keep your lullabies hidden.
And your A and E minors off the street after dark.
My town grew cold and bitter.
In icy hibernation was the once thumping heart.
Now seizing up.
The torturous worm of sound burrowed deep into my ears.
Le Piano du chat
I thought of Van Gogh.
I’d put an end to this incessant, inescapable drone.
Mao Gang Qin
I enlisted an army of the brave and I their general declared war.
Poised with tooth and fire in paw.
We would finally settle this musical score.
Eyes with fierce intent that glowed.
Through tempestuous waters we rowed.
Storming the shores,
Swarming in scores,
Scaling its walls with well-sharpened claws,
We invaded the tower through all its doors.
Up the winding stairs,
To meet him with blinding stares.
There he sat.
The organ grinder.
He turned, we pounced, we scratched and bit.
Fell through the window.
Screaming into the indigo waters below.
We freed the chain gang from their jail.
Cremated the piano.
And for home we set sail.
The city had reclaimed its vestal muse.
It would live again.
Cats would sing in the street again.
And I in anonymity as I had been long before this soliloquy,
Could sit and listen from afar.
The Cat Piano, now a healed over wound.
And this ode its fading scar.
Every time I read this poem I am struck by something new. I love the imagery in the section “In icy hibernation was the once thumping heart.Now seizing up.Freezing up.” It sounds like a beating heart. The alliteration, internal rhymes, and the pattern enchant me every time.
The actual film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj4RBmU-PIo
The official film website: http://catpianofilm.com/