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Poem: "The Impractical Cat" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Impractical Cat"
This poem came out of the July 1, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from siliconshaman, my_partner_doug, rix_scaedu and DW user Helgatwb. It also fills the "unconsciousness" square in my 6-10-14 square for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses. So far sponsors include: lb_lee, general fund, Stephen Laird

FULLY FUNDED!
264 lines, Buy It Now = $132
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Amount remaining to fund fully = $62
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The Impractical Cat


Mira

The cat catches my eye
here and there around campus
because I notice things that look different
or don't move quite the way they should.

He's a tomcat, of course,
no mistaking that --
he licks his balls at
people he doesn't like.

He has long legs and tail,
golden eyes in a high-domed head,
with ginger fur that badly needs a bath.
His claws, when he sharpens them on a tree,
look large and sharp and white.

Sometimes I see him go into blind alleys,
but when I search for him,
he isn't there.

It's like he can walk through walls.


Keane

This is a rough semester,
on top of the post-holiday slump.
Some of our classes are harder
than we expected them to be.

Farce has been running around campus
causing trouble, and I don't know what's up,
but there's a meaner edge to her than I remember.
I think something's wrong there.

When the ache in our chest
brings me out, I go for a walk,
even if the weather's shitty too.

Sometimes I see that cat,
a mess of ginger fur
who looks like he's been
beat with an ugly stick
and then kicked in a can.

He winds himself around my ankles
and then, when I sit down,
he climbs into my lap and purrs.

It helps a little.

Sometimes you pick a cat,
and sometimes he picks you.

I don't try to take him home, though.
Having a cat would be impractical.


Ham

On Friday night I go to a bar, because
they've hired a musician called Rockstar --
and what kind of a name is that? --
only to find the damn cat underfoot.

It's early yet so there's no music
and not much of a crowd.
Farce is there, though;
I can't see her but I can hear
the hitch and wheeze of her breathing
somewhere in the shadows.

Savoir Faire is there too,
so at least we've got her outnumbered.

I munch my way through a bowl of pretzels,
waiting for the music to start;
even a slow night at a bar is better
than staying home to study.

More people drift into the bar
as the later classes let out.

Finally Rockstar comes onstage
with a battered guitar and
his brown hair falling in his face.
His fingering is awful.

Then he starts to sing, and maronna mia!
the cat could do better than that.
As if on cue, the tom begins to yowl,
and people laugh.

Rockstar looks furious.
He abandons his guitar
and plows into the crowd
with both fists swinging.

"Let's keep this low-key,"
I say as Savoir Faire closes in,
and he gives me a nod.

But suddenly there are
chunks of granite floor
flying through the air
as Rockstar waves his hands,
I can feel the queasy ripple
of Farce's talent bending luck awry,
and the cat is clawing someone's face.

"Now what?" asks Savoir Faire.

"Essere del gatto," I mutter.
"We're in trouble."

So is Farce, because I can see her now
and she's leaning heavily on a table.
She looks like crap -- no wonder
Keane has been worried about her.


Clement

I push myself forward, because
if Ham will just get out of my way
and let me talk to Farce,
I'm sure I can settle this.
"Hi, how are you?" I say to her.

"See how you like being laughed at,"
she snarls at me, and I can feel
her power plucking at my balance,
trying to trip me, only
it's not as strong as usual.

"I'm not laughing," I say,
spreading my hands as I
step out of the way of
two guys brawling.

"Everyone's laughing," says Farce,
and it's like she doesn't even hear me.

"There's no need to fight,"
I say, catching ahold of her arm
to give her a solid focus.

"Don't fucking touch me!"
Farce moves in a blur,
slashing across my hand
with a broken bottle.

I'm so stunned,
I can't believe that
she actually cut me
until I see the blood.


Ham

I yank Clement away from the front
before he can get us killed.

A bottle isn't a knife,
but it's as good as a blade,
and the same kind of fighting
works against it.

I know the swift slap and block
and twirl of wrist to disarm Farce
so that her weapon smashes on the floor.

She backs away, and I let her.
"Un ada oda, pucchiach’ ..."
I mutter. Another time, bitch.

My hand hurts like hell
but I can't fight and heal
at the same time,
can't merge my power
with Clement's power.

I manage to twist a handkerchief
around the messy gash
but that's the best I can do.

The fight rocks me back and forth,
then suddenly it gets worse.

Looking around, I see that
Savoir Faire is down, out cold,
felled by one of the flying rocks.

I scramble to his side,
standing over him
as I use my gift to knock
the rocks away from us both.

I can keep Savoir Faire safe, but
I don't know if that will keep him alive.

Then I hear a voice in my head
saying, Work together.

Something twines around my legs,
soft and warm and purring.


Clement

I come forward, but
it feels different somehow.

I'm here, and yet
Ham is still bouncing rocks
away from us.

There's a strange sort of
double vision, Ham and I
layered together,
the cat blinking at us
from under a table.

At least I can reach
Savoir Faire now.
He's bleeding a lot, but
head wounds always do that,
and nothing seems broken.

I pull the power through my body,
working on my own hand too
as I send the energy
on into Savoir Faire.

Distantly I notice that
the rocks have stopped falling
and the rowdy college students
seem to have driven away both
Farce and the crazy guitarist.

Savoir Faire groans and stirs
under my touch, finally coming around.

"Don't move," I say,
but he's stubborn and
tries to sit up anyhow.

"What happened?" he says.

"You got hit by a rock," I say.
I push him back down,
and he lets me, which means
he still feels pretty awful.
"It looks like the party's over now."

The bar is almost empty again,
except for us and the cat
and a beleaguered bartender
half-hiding behind the bar.

The bartender, to my surprise,
comes out from his refuge
and offers me a first-aid kit.

I get Savoir Faire cleaned up
and wrapped in gauze.

Then I take time
to wrap my own hand,
hiding the long slash
so no one can see
how fast it's healing.

Savoir Faire is stronger now,
so I help him sit up.
"You should really see an expert,"
I warn him. "Head injuries
are nothing to mess with."

"Thank you," he says,
kissing my hand, and
I don't know if he'll
follow my advice or not.

I've done all I can, though,
and I'm exhausted,
so I let go.


Clarity

As Ham and Clement
slide into the back of our mind,
I glide forward to seek out
the stranger's touch
that linked them together.

I wish I could do it myself
but it's like trying to see
the back of my own head.

Two amber lights
beneath a table
blink off and then on.

The cat is watching me.

I brush a mental touch
over the bartender
to soothe his fears.

I help Savoir Faire stand up, and
overlay my gentle suggestion
on Clement's good advice.

"If you want to follow me, Macavity,
there's cold chicken at home,"
I say to the watchful cat who
reminds me of the Hidden Paw.

We need to get out of here
before more trouble shows up.

To my surprise, the cat follows me.


Maze

The house is my responsibility,
so I shift forward when we reach it.

The tall ginger tomcat
whom Clarity calls Macavity
sits at the door, waiting patiently
for me to open it for him.

I hesitate, because we're not really
supposed to have pets in the house.

He flicks an ear at me,
then phases through the door.

I yank it open and hurry after him.
"You're not going to pee on the floor,
are you?" I ask.

Would you? says Macavity.

"Of course not!" I say.

Well, neither will I, says Macavity
as he cleans between his claws.
I believe I was promised some chicken.

There is indeed leftover chicken
stuck in the refrigerator,
and I get it out because Clarity
had offered some to the cat
and we are all trying to learn
how to keep each other's promises.

As I watch Macavity eat
I think about the fight in the bar,
rub the healing cut on my hand,
and wonder what all of this means.

* * *

Notes:

Macavity -- He is a ginger tomcat with a high forehead, golden eyes, long legs and tail, grungy fur, and sharp claws. He is an accomplished spy, thief, and vandal.
Origin: Mad science experiments, possibly at Urbanburg University.
Uniform: None. He goes nude.
Qualities: Master (+6) Cat, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Troublemaker
Poor (-2) Hiding His Emotions
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect, Average (0) Levitation, Average (0) Nine Lives, Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telempathy
Motivation: To find out what's fishy at Urbanburg University.

Rockstar (Viggo King) -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and golden-brown hair. He is handsome, with high cheekbones and full lips. Viggo travels around conning people into hiring him as a guitarist. He has a crappy old guitar, with worn patches where his right arm and pick have rubbed against the varnish. He likes to think of himself as a great musician, but actually he sucks, and he doesn't take it at all well when people say so. Consequently he never plays more than one night at the same place. He supplements his musical earnings with crime.
Origin: He and some friends went horsing around a closed-off construction site. He got caught in a rockslide and woke up with a new superpower.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bullshitting People, Good (+2) Criminal, Good (+2) Handsome, Good (+2) Tough, Good (+2) Traveler
Poor (-2) Performer
Powers: Good (+2) Control Rocks
Motivation: Fame.

* * *

The title is a reference to Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.  The tom cat is named after Macavity, a popular name for stray cats.

There is also a book titled The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, referring to the way cats seemingly appear and disappear at will.  See also the tropes Cats Are Magic and Cats Have Nine Lives.

After Christmas and New Year comes the post-holiday slump.  There are ways to avoid or cope with the letdown.

Cats and people are good for each other.  Cats can lift your mood, and their purring has many benefits.

maronna mia! – oh my God! (madonna mia!) [maa-ROAWN-aa-MEE-uh]
-- Italian slang

Being a musician sucks, modern music sucks, and sometimes the performance sucks too.  There are good ways to handle criticism.  Tearing up the floor with your superpower is not one of them.  Know how to critique music the right way.

Bar fights can happen at any watering hole, but are more common in some than others.  There are simple and more serious tips on how to survive a bar fight. Bouncers have their own strategies: some are all about preventing and minimizing damage, while others just want to beat down the troublemakers as hard and fast as possible.  Notice that both Damask and Savoir Faire agree on the de-escalation mode.  It doesn't always work, but it is always a good first choice.

Granite tile is a popular flooring in public places.

Essere del gatto (to be of the cat): being in trouble
-- Italian slang

Keane, Clement, and Ham have all noticed different things that make them worry about Farce, from shortness of breath to more general signs of trouble.  They aren't friends, but no superhero wants to watch someone circling the drain.

un ada oda – another time (un altra volta/un altra ora) [oon-AA-daa-O-daa]
-- Italian slang

pucchiach’/bucchiach’ – b–ch (pucchiacha) [poo-KYAAK]
-- Italian slang

Know how to treat cuts.  In combat, it is absolutely worth the time to wrap something, anything, over a freely bleeding wound to slow the stream so that it doesn't drain all your energy, if you can manage to do that without getting killed in the process.  This is a place where teamwork is tremendously valuable; you can cover each other for a few seconds to quick-patch injuries or reload a weapon.

Keeping promises is a vital part of personal growth.  A unique challenge for plural people is that each headmate may make promises of their own, which are then binding upon the whole system, because most people outside will not know that there are actually several people under that skin.  It usually takes practice for headmates to learn how to manage this gracefully.  Follow the steps to keep a promise.

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26 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: technoshaman Date: July 3rd, 2014 04:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Motivation: To find out what's fishy at Urbanburg University

Cat eat da FISH! Is also very curious.

"Curiosity" would be a good name for a shark or barracuda or such that shared a house with a cat...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2014 07:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>> Cat eat da FISH! Is also very curious. <<

Well, we've seen hints of things around campus that are not altogether on the up-and-up. One thing that tends to happen in superhero stories is that as the character gains experience, they slowly float up the levels into larger piles of trouble. I have some ideas about which dots might connect into bigger problems. Readers are welcome to make their own suggestions too.

>> "Curiosity" would be a good name for a shark or barracuda or such that shared a house with a cat... <<

*laugh*
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: July 3rd, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or a caiman; one of our friends back in elementary school had both a cat and a caiman!
thnidu From: thnidu Date: July 3rd, 2014 05:34 am (UTC) (Link)
That's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. (You've got a Heinlein fan here.)

You can read or listen to* Macavity's story courtesy of the BBC.

*Hopefully. It just keeps loading for me.
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: July 3rd, 2014 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
The only reason I know that reference is due to Spider Robinson; never did read much Heinlein...

--Rogan
thnidu From: thnidu Date: July 3rd, 2014 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yah , I grew up reading Heinlein, starting in the late 50s.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: July 8th, 2014 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)

||: presto riparando :||

Please fix the title of the Heinlein book. You can even just look at your own link.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: July 3rd, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's... odd to see "nude" apply to a being of a species that does not normally wear clothing.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

There are a couple of reasons I specify that. One is that it's an odd twist to realize that there's a person in a shape that usually means nonsentient animal. Another is that some of my nonhuman characters do wear uniforms of some sort and may even feel naked without them.
siliconshaman From: siliconshaman Date: July 8th, 2014 11:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

..and some cats like wearing clothes, well, collars anyway. [we've got one, she cries if we have to take it off. She's our fuzzy little anti-nudist.]
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 9th, 2014 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

That's true. Some critters are very attached to their clothing-analogs.
siege From: siege Date: August 15th, 2014 02:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

My parents have insisted for some time that cats who go out of the house must wear a collar, so that people know they have a home. But cats who stay inside don't have to. Little Hera didn't like it at first and got used to it later, but now that she has cancer and keeps wanting to eat grass so she can vomit, she wants a collar because it means she gets to go outside.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: September 6th, 2014 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Given the amount of time they often spend keeping their coats in order, I tend to think of them as clothed in fur. Years ago one of my girls had to be shaved to treat a bad case of ringworm. She hid until her fur grew back out.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2014 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Yep, some of my nonhuman characters are like that. The fluffier the coat, the more it hides their parts underneath and the more it defines their self-image. The flatter the coat, the more it seems to behave like skin, and they don't think of it so much as clothing.

For Judd, I think he considers his body hair similar to skin and his mane and tail much like a human's skin. He's sensitive about wearing tack because it's part of how a horse interacts with humans and defines his role -- the shape of your saddle indicates what style of riding you follow, the style of your harness shows what kind of draftwork you do, your halter or bridle indicate a level of cooperation, and any or all of that may have your name on it so people know who you are.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: September 6th, 2014 02:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the image of a ginger tom licking his balls at people to flip them the bird!

It occurs to me that Macavity both knows that Damask is a system (and that someone other than his current conversational partner promised him the chicken) and that he has a way of helping them learn to work together, instead of one at a time. I wonder how long it will take Damask to realize the implications of Macavity's telepathy.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: September 6th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, he is the Mystery Cat.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2014 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

*laugh*

So very apt.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>> I love the image of a ginger tom licking his balls at people to flip them the bird! <<

That just seems to me like what cats are often trying to convey.

>> It occurs to me that Macavity both knows that Damask is a system (and that someone other than his current conversational partner promised him the chicken) and that he has a way of helping them learn to work together, instead of one at a time. <<

Exactly.

>> I wonder how long it will take Damask to realize the implications of Macavity's telepathy. <<

I'm not sure. Certainly not in the deep-fried aftermath of a fight, but probably later.

This is going to come up with almost any telepath, though, and plenty of other people with energy gifts. They may not know what they're sensing, but they are likely to pick up something. To Farce, it's "your power has hiccups." ;)
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: September 6th, 2014 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm liking Macavity, and I love the high-domed forehead. Shades of Moriarty! (And also Sirius.)

Looks like Damask is owned by a cat now.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2014 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I'm liking Macavity, and I love the high-domed forehead. Shades of Moriarty! (And also Sirius.) <<

I'm glad you like this. I have ideas for an intelligent dog, too.

>> Looks like Damask is owned by a cat now. <<

I think Macavity is a come-and-go kind of cat, but he has definitely taken an interest in Damask.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 6th, 2014 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Macavity seems too independently-minded a cat to attach himself to one human (or however Damask would like to be counted, but one body and one physical household, at the moment). That said, Damask can't exactly keep him out if he wants to come in ...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2014 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

>> Macavity seems too independently-minded a cat to attach himself to one human (or however Damask would like to be counted, but one body and one physical household, at the moment). <<

That's plausible. However, there does seem to be some air of possessiveness/protectiveness here.

>> That said, Damask can't exactly keep him out if he wants to come in ... <<

Also true.
tigerbright From: tigerbright Date: September 6th, 2014 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Intrigued! I love superhero stories that include character development.

Will we get any more heras?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2014 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>> Intrigued! I love superhero stories that include character development. <<

Thank you! I do this with a majority of my characters. Click the series link if you haven't already done so, and you'll find many more.

>> Will we get any more heras? <<

This also is ubiquitous throughout my work and especially in this series. See "Hit Like a Girl" for the one I just introduced today.

Feel free to request character development or heras in any open prompt call.
From: technoshaman Date: September 7th, 2014 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I'm for more McCavity..... :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

You can ask for him in any open prompt call.
26 comments or Leave a comment