What If…we were Sentimental?

A poem made me cry the other day.  for the first time in a long time. it sprang into my head  it in a lecture for some reason.  One of my strongest memories (but not the first) of listening to spoken poetry as a kid in my father’s car.  I looked it up online. It was called ‘A Cat Named Sloopy’ by this poet/singer-songwriter Rod McKuen, born around the same time as many Beat poets, compared to Carl Sandburg BUT also according to Wikipedia, not taken seriously by writers because of his sentimentality. Such as having the audacity to write about his cat, breaking one of the first rules of Contemporary Poetry: You Do Not Write Entire Poems About Your Pets.

Still, I don’t know the last time a poem made me cry. Maybe it was being exposed to it when I was like 8. Maybe it was having cats. The thing is, people take the piss out of this poet because he breaks rules, and yes, there are lines and phrases in this poem that are cringeworthy, but maybe that is beside the point. Perhaps there is only so far following rules can take you. I mean, people write about sex and masturbation and getting fucked and other kinds of nonsense you might think are inappropriate for the stage until they are onstage all the time, so why NOT pets? I keep trying to sound cynical in my poems but maybe there is value in throwing it all to the wind and saying ‘it was only Sloopy who loved me best’.


A Cat Named Sloopy


For a while

the only earth that Sloopy knew

was in her sandbox.

Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street

were her domain.

Every night she’d sit in the window

among the avocado plants

waiting for me to come home

(my arms full of canned liver and love).

We’d talk into the night then


but missing something,

She the earth she never knew

me the hills I ran

while growing bent.


Sloopy should have been a cowboy’s cat
with prairies to run
not linoleum
and real-live catnip mice.
No one to depend on but herself.

I never told her
but in my mind
I was a midnight cowboy even then.
Riding my imaginary horse
down Forty-second Street,
going off with strangers
to live an hour-long cowboy’s life,
but always coming home to Sloopy,
who loved me best.



A dozen summers

An island on an island.

She’d comfort me with purring

I’d fatten her with smiles.

We grew rich on trust

needing not the beach or butterflies

I had a friend named Ben

Who painted buildings like Roualt men.

He went away.

My laughter tired Lillian

after a time

she found a man who only smiled.

Only Sloopy stay and stayed.


Nineteen fifty-nine.
Old men walk their dogs.
Some are walked so often
that their feet leave
little pink tracks
in the soft gray snow.

Women fur on fur
elegant and easy
only slightly pure
hailing cabs to take them
round the block and back.
Who is not a love seeker
when December comes?
even children pray to Santa Claus.
I had my own love safe at home
and yet I stayed out all one night
the next day too.



They must have thought me crazy




as the snow came falling

down around me.


I was a madman
to have stayed away
one minute more
than the appointed hour.
I’d like to think a golden cowboy
snatched her from the window sill,
and safely saddlebagged
she rode to Arizona.
She’s stalking lizards
in the cactus now perhaps
bitter but free.

I’m bitter too
and not a free man any more.

Once was a time,
in New York’s jungle in a tree,
before I went into the world
in search of other kinds of love
nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy.

Looking back
perhaps she’s been
the only human thing
that ever gave back love to me.
(from the book “Listen To The Warm” published by Random House. Copyright Rod McKuen 1963-1967.)


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