Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
crossing my path... peculiar big cat drops me a bone — Pat Geyer, The Mamba, Issue 4 (2017)
Radhamani Sarma’s thoughts take many paths:
Very pleased to view and comment on this poem by Pat Geyer. Reading this verse, we are so drawn into the scene that it makes us wonder and speculate as to whether the central figure — “big cat” — is a domestic cat playing with its paw, a tom cat, or a tabby. What else could it be? Only observation and experience can unearth reality.
The very first line — “crossing my path …” — shows the speaker’s dilemma, even fear. Filled with tension, perhaps she is in the middle of a road and unable to move along for fear of a “peculiar big cat” that is obstructing her way or crossing in front of her. The adjective “peculiar” obviously forces readers to cull out many a meaning for a better interpretation.
On the peripheral level, one cannot rule out the possibility of a wildcat crossing the speaker’s path and dropping a bone. Yet the author’s deliberate intention is beautifully coined thus: “peculiar big cat,” which is the crux of matter.
Here is another most probable and viable symbolic inference: The speaker shows all her anger when she encounters interference from someone who is obviously trying to be rude, uncivil, impolite, trying to exploit or abuse her physically. Hence, the inhuman human is referred to as a “peculiar big cat,” not merely in size, and appearance, but also in his unruly nature borne out by his bold behavior and approach towards her. Carnivorous instinct in a man is cleverly depicted through polished humor.
The third line, “drops me a bone,” leans towards sarcastic humor. The speaker indicates that the man, in the guise of a big cat, came to hunt her flesh, but ironically dropped “a bone,“ meaning, he got a good thrashing from her, to the extent that only his bone remained. The contrast of a “big cat” and a “bone” semantically reduces the big cat to bone and is admirably well knit with a philosophy implying that expectations differ from reality.
Memory takes me back to those golden days with my grandmother, the time spent in her palatial house with cats, frolicking, breeding, mewing and playing with small balls. One kitten used to come and watch my grandma eating, waiting for some morsels to fall. Another big cat with ash-colored eyes would purr, far better than “human” cats: if not a bone at least a purr.
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă sees the cat in different lights:
If we are talking about superstitions, then you probably know that in some parts of the world, the fact that a cat, especially a black one, crosses your path brings you bad luck. If by chance that cat drops you a bone, then you are saved and probably won’t feel unlucky in the next few hours.
If this is about a poor region where people suffer from malnutrition, the cat is no longer a servant of the devil. On the contrary; it’s a kind of angel who leaves a little of its prey to the starving man.
No matter how you look at the poem, the cat is the element that creates a Halloween atmosphere, being a strange, ghostly appearance that intrigues you and follows you beyond the boundaries of the text. The ellipsis can indicate the small steps of the animal or a necessary pause, a moment of suspense, urging the reader to reflect on what he would have done better: continue on his way or make his way back.
In conclusion, this is a touching poem in which the poet demonstrates that he is a fine observer of daily routines that hide a multitude of pertinent meanings. Meow!
Meg Halls conjures a dream:
I imagine the author waking from a dream in the middle of the night and drowsily jotting this down, falling back asleep, waking to find it on a scrap of paper, a bone left behind from another world.
He or she would not be sure if the “big cat” was of the feline sort or human, if the bone was an animal bone or something to think over. Or all of these.
The haiku has a snap to it. The lack of an article before “peculiar,” while it would be annoying in another poem, works here. It is as if the unidentifiable cat in question has a name — “peculiar big cat” — which gives it a kind of aura, amplifying the mystery
As this week’s winner, Meg gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
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nowhere to run from the skeleton within — windmill raven — Allan Burns, Bottle Rockets #28 (2014)