Other People’s Cats

by Mike LaForge
The Waters
First Place, February 2021
Judged by Nicole Greaves

I promise not to write about the way she sits on the sofa
in her plaid, mint green pajamas and the fuzzy gray slippers
she bought for herself three short days before Christmas.

No one needs to know, she says, about the skillful way she wraps
her freshly washed Argan Oil of Morocco scented hair in a towel
like the bright yellow turban of an Amritdhari Sikh.

She doesn’t like to be photographed or even looked at
closely after she’s removed her contacts for the night
and put on her wire rimmed glasses to watch those

soothing videos of other people’s cats, the ones
with Bengals, Ragdolls, Tabbies and Savannahs
stretching, climbing, curling up and posing

that she likes to watch before bed. If I photograph
her now, I know she won’t go to sleep until I’ve deleted
the evidence. I struggle to tell her that the photo is for me

to look at, that the sight of her curled up on our old couch
is better, for me, at the end of the day, than cats.
What are you writing about tonight? she wants to know.

Poetry distills. It breaks down moments and relationships into windows of time and sentiment in the way that paintings do. The beauty of poetry is how language plays in that canvas to add texture, to bring us further into the mind’s eye. “Other People’s Cats” conjures Galway Kinnell’s “After We Make Love, We Hear Footsteps” in the way it captures a domestic moment and the complexity of intimacy. While we are one in our togetherness, we are also separate. Like the child in the Kinnell poem and the speaker's own bearishness, the lenses here of photography, cats on tv, the subject’s own glasses layers the setting. These external presences contextualize the internal life of the poem. We have the relationship, then how the speaker sees the beloved through the frame of how she sees herself, while we still learn about the speaker. In the very first line of “Other People’s Cats,” the speaker betrays his love as he endears her to the reader as she sheds the day to be alone with her guilty pleasure of watching cats prance on tv. He “promised” not to write about her, but goes on to write about her intimately, how she treats herself, cleanses, puts on her glasses to become more of herself. As she settles into who she really is, he wants to photograph her, to keep this vision close, but he “struggles” to communicate this, just as she struggles to be vulnerable. She has her secrets she wants to keep, to maintain her own sense of being, to feel protected. In the end, she wants to see what he is writing about, to see if she can truly trust him. We know she cannot, which is at the heart of this poem. Not that he does not love or adore her because that affection itself is revealed in the betrayal, which is part of this poem’s charm. Tercets are also ideal for this poem, breaking that union of two as the lenses do. --Nicole Greaves