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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Swing a Cat"
This poem came out of the July 1, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "moving" square of my 6-10-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman and [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Danso thread in the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Swing a Cat"


Moving is always hard,
because Lakia has been shuttled
from one foster home to another
and it always means losing her place,
going to a new school, being the new kid,
and getting picked on for it.

On the street it was easier
because they were always moving
so there was no temptation
to settle down and pretend
that this time she could stay there.

Now the Muffler says that
all of them can stay,
but Lakia has heard that before
and she isn't stupid.

It's a little different, a little better,
because the Muffler doesn't
shove Lakia into a new school right off.
Instead there is time to calm down,
to learn about the house and neighborhood,
to begin to feel like a real family.

There are home lessons so that
Lakia can catch up with the lessons
other children are doing in first grade.
They're not as boring as what
Lakia remembers from before.

There are also special lessons
in controlling her superpower
so that Lakia doesn't zap people
with her tail when she shouldn't.

Finally the Muffler decides
that Lakia is ready for school.

The first day is the hardest,
because the teacher is nice
but the classroom is strange
and some of the kids are mean.

When Lakia walks down the hall,
people point and giggle
because she looks different,
whisper, "Freak!" and pull her tail.

Mrs. Wilson notices that
Lakia is having a hard time.
"What can you do with your tail?"
the teacher asks her.
"Can you move it any way you want?"

"Pretty much," Lakia says,
picking up a book with it.

"Well, I've scolded the boys
who pulled your tail, but it would help
if you made it less of a temptation,"
Mrs. Wilson says. "Do you think
you could wind it around your waist?"

Lakia tries. It feels a little weird,
but after a while she gets the hang of it.
Holding her tail like that is safer,
but now her balance is back
to being crummy like it was
before she had a tail.

Lakia doesn't like that.
She doesn't want
to make less of herself
just to avoid getting picked on.

When the Muffler asks Lakia
how she likes her new school,
Lakia talks about the reading shelf
and the multicultural dolls and
the boys who tease her for having a tail.

"You know, this is a pretty good school,"
the Muffler says. "It offers a Special Interests class
for kids who need a little something extra."

"That's for dumb kids," Lakia says,
wrinkling her small brown nose.
She's seen the retard classes in other schools.

"It's for slow kids and smart kids
and anyone who's had a hard time,"
the Muffler said. "I think you'd like it.
There are learning games and puzzles
and you can work on personal projects too."

So Lakia tries the Special Interests class,
and it turns out to be a lot of fun.
She likes the blocks and the hula hoop
and the jumping mat video game.

"It looks to me like you enjoy
playing with your whole body,"
says Mr. Keaner.

Lakia sighs. "I guess."
Moving is always hard
now that she has to
keep her tail contained.

"You seem to be having
some challenges with balance,"
the teacher says.

Lakia flicks just the tip
of her tail at him. "Yeah."

"Would you like to try tumbling?"
Mr. Keaner asks. "The gym is full now,
but we could put a mat in the cafeteria."

They lay down soft foam so that
Lakia can run and jump and hop
and fall down without getting hurt.

Mr. Keaner is a science teacher.
When Lakia has worn herself out
from romping around, he sits down
and shows her how cats use their tails
to balance when they run and jump.
He shows her how monkeys use theirs
to hold onto tree branches or carry fruit.

Lakia is fascinated.
She never knew so much about tails!

Some days they stay
in the Special Interests room
and play with the animal cards.
Other times they go to the library
to study what tails can do.
Mr. Keaner even finds
a set of heads-and-tails cards.

Lakia doesn't hate her tail
as much as she used to.
It's still weird but at least now
she's learning more about it.

Kids still pick on her though.
When Mrs. Wilson catches them,
she makes the bullies apologize.
When Mr. Keaner catches them,
he makes the bullies run laps.

When Joey whispers,
"See, I told you they have tails,"
he gets sent to the principal's office.

But none of it makes them stop.

"I wish I could just zap them,"
Lakia grumbles at home.

"Powers are for helping,
not for hurting,"
the Muffler reminds her.

When Lakia pets a stray cat
and a blue spark leaps
from fur to fingers,
she learns not to
rub it the wrong way, and
she begins to get an idea.

Moving energy is always hard,
and so far she has only used it
to crack the whip of her tail
so that it stuns people
trying to hurt her.

Now Lakia tries different ways
of moving energy to see
if she can turn it on just a little,
like scuffing across a wool carpet
to make sparks in the winter.

It takes a while to learn,
but she likes seeing
the blue lights dart
from her hair in a dark room.

The bullies learn that
poking Lakia isn't safe.

When they whine to Mrs. Wilson
she says, "Maybe you should learn
to keep your hands to yourselves."

When they whine to Mr. Keaner,
he says, "If you swing a cat by the tail,
don't complain when you get clawed."

Later Mr. Keaner pulls Lakia aside
and asks about what she has
learned to do with her tail.

Lakia tells him about the stray cat
and shows him the tiny blue sparks.

Mr. Keaner reminds her
to be careful with her abilities.
Then he shows her a set of
science experiments with static electricity.

Lakia learns how to use a balloon
and the energy from her wild hair
to bend water or roll an empty soda can.
She likes to make things move.

In art class, Lakia makes
a set of cat ears from felt
glued onto a headband.
They don't move like
the fancy ones on TV but
Lakia loves them and
wears them everywhere.

Moving isn't easy,
no matter whether Lakia is
moving from one school to another
or moving her body with its strange new tail
or moving the energy under her skin,
but Lakia is starting to understand
that it's easier when you have
people to help you figure it out.

* * *

Notes:

The title comes from such cautionary sayings as, "If a man wants to swing a cat by the tail, I say let him." and "If you swing a cat by the tail, don't complain when you get clawed."

Moving to a new home or school is hard on kids, especially with repeated moves. It can cause lasting damage. There are ways to make it easier.

Foster care typically entails a lot of miserable experiences. This makes it harder for children to form healthy attachments. Lakia just doesn't know what "secure" feels like yet, and she doesn't know how to put down roots.

Bullying is a complex problem. Bullies tend to target unpopular kids or those who are different. There are things teachers can do to discourage bullies, and that kids can try to deal with bullies, but interventions often fail to stop the bullying. You have to actually teach kids not to bully and build social skills. This is work; most people can't be arsed to do it.

Special Interests is a class that offers enrichment activities for special needs children whether they are gifted, handicapped, soups, abuse survivors, or otherwise in need of fun educational activities. In a small or medium school there may be some classes like remedial reading or advanced math, but often there are handfuls of kids whose different issues actually benefit from the same kind of enriched environment and you can just bundle them together even if there aren't enough of any one issue to make a whole class. I've never seen this at school in our world, but it would work -- you can find groups of kids like that gravitating together at a summer camp or park.

Lakia has bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, so she benefits from physical learning methods. Some children have balance disorders, or in Lakia's case, a shifting level of ability. Vestibular stimulation can help children become more relaxed, or more alert, so they can concentrate better.





Animal cards are a popular category of materials in enrichment programs. You can find such things as safari cards, animal classification cards, or rainforest animal cards. Montessori schools use 3-part cards of farm animals, African animals, and so forth. Here is the heads-and-tails set.

Humans really can be born with a pseudotail or a true tail. These are almost always removed shortly after birth, because humans are uncomfortable with people who have extra body parts. See some pictures of human tails. A particularly vulgar myth is that black people have tails. Tail development does not seem to be more common in any particular ethnic group.

Self-acceptance means learning to love yourself as you are, strengths and flaws and all. There are ways to cultivate self-acceptance.

Static electricity may be explored in science experiments such as rolling a can.

Cat ears are a popular costume accessory (or for some people, prosthetic) which may be bought or made. This video shows how to make a simple set of cat ears. Necomimi is a famous brand of animated cat ears that respond to brain waves. It is also possible to make animatronic cat ears based on manual controls.

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