Top to bottom: Nigel, Fred, Reggie, Vyger. The palm tree was painted by a student in the middle of the night. He didn’t want to go back to Switzerland and THAT was his statement. We’d lived in this house a year when this photo was taken.

I like cats as much as I like dogs. For a few years in San Diego I was a crazy cat lady, known by the local Mexican kids as, ‘La bruja de los gatos.” It wasn’t exactly my choice to have ten+ cats. I wanted TWO cats. Soon after we bought the crack house we fixed up, the Good X and I went to Animal Control and picked out a little Siamese we named Chada and a beautiful Russian blue we named Fred.

We had NO idea what we’d actually done.

Chada was an aloof creature and Fred was gregarious. Once outside the door, he’d roam the neighborhood making friends and bringing them home. So here came Eddy, who looked just like Fred, and Jack Frost who looked just like Fred if Fred had been covered with frost. They all also brought their hunting trophies into the house — Chada was partial to alligator lizards and Fred was a bird hunting cat. Sadly, Chada (known fondly as Chowder Head) was hit by a car which seemed to have opened a cosmic door for Fred to bring home even more friends.

And then…my students, international students, would adopt a cat for the duration of their stay in the US and then guess what? I know, way too easy. That brought Mousch, a yellow tabby. Then a couple of students got kittens on a field trip (a very cute girl was giving them away) and that was Reggie and Nigel. THEN the husband of one of my colleagues left her and her daughter ran away; she held it together pretty good through THAT but when her cat had a litter she fell apart which brought Vyger. “I’ll take one, Suzanne, it will be OK. You’ll find homes for them.” THEN my neighbor’s husband was about to kill a tiny kitten in their garden and the neighbor called, “Martha! Come and help us! Chayo’s going to kill a kitten!” and THAT was an incredibly nice little torty I name Triffid. Not long before my vet’s office called and said they’d rescued a beautiful cat in an abandoned VW so THAT cat came to live with us, too. She was a cross-eyed Himalayan I named Catmandu. THEN another tortie showed up with long “whiskers” in her ears and slanted eyes and of course I had to name her Klingon. Then, a tiny little kitty came in my back door one evening when I was cooking supper. She was crying. I looked down and saw her little black and white being and thought she was a kitten, but no. She was a full-on adult cat of the mini-cat stripe. I named her Holstein (obviously)

I don’t even know if I’ve cataloged them all here. We kept all these cats vaccinated and had them all fixed. We bought cat carriers at the swap meet and when it was time for the vet, we loaded the cats into the back of a station wagon the Good-X had at the time and went to a mobile vet. It was a circus. Cats are fun, though. They are all different from each other, and interesting to watch and live with. Luckily for us it was San Diego, we had a verandah and lived on a quiet street and they could be inside/outside cats. Some were primarily outside and others were primarily inside. The last surviving cat was Triffid who died in his sleep in his favorite spot under the bird of paradise in front of the house.

Cat-mandu, charcoal drawing

Stray Cats

There’s no such thing as a stray cat
‘Cause now they all live in my yard.
I rescued them from the weather,
And a life unbearably hard.

They came the night of the cookout,
When they smelled a barbecue.
That night we had decided
To broil a burger or two

The first one to come was dirty,
He was gray, he was shy, he was wild;
He was hungry enough to approach us
And eat from our plates like a child.

First we tossed him a bit of a burger
Which he ate with incredible zest,
Then we gave him some cat food,
He tucked it away like the best.

Now Eddy is just a glutton
Who eats everything in sight.
The next one was much more fussy
On that beautiful starlit night.

She was fierce-eyed and ragged,
She clearly had seen better days.
She was thin, she was weak, she was tired,
And her fur stuck out every which way.

Nowadays she’s a princess
With beautiful tortoise shell fur,
And every night when she’s eaten,
She sits on my chest and she purrs.

Klingon, Charcoal drawing

The last one to come we call Jack Frost
He’s gray but all covered with snow.
He’s staying, I’ve just come to realize
Because he has no place to go.

Jack Frost, Charcoal drawing

Yes, there is no such thing as a stray cat.
And I’m giving this warning to you;
No matter how you feel tempted,
If you hate cats then don’t barbecue.

Cat Food

Long long ago in a faraway land known as San Diego I had 10 cats. More accurately, they had me. I only wanted two, but they brought their pals and their pals brought their pals. My international students adopted cats then returned to their home countries, leaving us their cat. Our vet found cats and called us. “We found a beautiful cat living in a VW in a junk yard.” THAT couldn’t have been random. They were LOOKING. Anyway, there we were. Ten cats. All kinds. The Mexican kids on my street called me “La Bruja de Los Gatos.” The Cat Witch.


This problem (not sure yet if it was a problem) was exacerbated because the cats were fed on the veranda, outside the back door. One night my roommate and I looked out and saw two NEW “cats” peacefully eating from the cat dishes. The cats — my cats — hung out at a distance from the new comers, watching warily as the newcomers ate. We named them. There really wasn’t much choice since the other “cats” all had names. We named them “Vagrant and Fragrant.”

By Heart

In OLDEN days the poets were less writers of poetry than they were reciters of poetry. People would gather round them in the firelight — even if it was Athens it was firelight — and listen to them recite the stories of the heroic deeds of Achilles and Odysseus, the beauty of Helen of Troy, the sad death of Njal. Even the poets believed that the stories were told to them by the Gods. The poetry was there, waiting for a voice. Poetry is easier to learn when it rhymes, is alliterative and has a beat. The muses who gave the poems to the bards knew this. 🙂

In the eras before mine, kids learned poetry in school and they had to be able to recite it “by heart.” My grandfather could recite LONG poems and my mom could, too. I think the old man had all his kids learning poetry from a young age. Anyway, it was always a part of our house when I was growing up. My dad, too. He could recite Robert Service’ “The Ice Worm Cocktail” by heart. My mom could recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I like those poems but the Robert Service poem I like best is “The Call of the Wild” and I can recite most of it by heart.

The few poems I can recite (part or all) I actually feel they are part of my heart, more than words on paper. Some of them I was forced to learn in school and they evoke my school days when I think of them (“Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — the beginning of it). Others I learned because they meant a lot to me. Some of the poems are deep, some are silly, some are doggerel, some changed my life, my way of thinking. You see, I love poetry. ❤

In the summer of 2000 I taught Intro to Lit and the first day a student said, “Are we going to do poetry? I hate poetry. I don’t get it.”

I said, “We kind of have to. This is an intro to lit class.” I taught a poem every day, usually one of those I know “by heart.” And usually I recited them wrote them on the board — possible because most of those are short, almost epigrams. She ended up loving it.

“You know all those poems by heart, Teacher?”

“Yeah,” I said.

I’ve even written some poetry. I think some of it’s good, but the one I’m going to ‘recite’ (copy and paste) here is from my Pulitzer Prize winning book of catteral, Cats I’ve Known. It’s dedicated to all the great cats out there and the humans they own.

God Makes the First Cat

God made the world in just one week,
And every creature he made unique
He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
He made the loyal loving dog.

He made the fish, he made the spider,
A hippo to make the rivers wider.
He worked on butterflies and hens,
Then he sat down to think again.

“In all of my menagerie
There’s something missing. Let me see.
A world needs horses to pull plows,
A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”

“But when the daily work is done,
A world must find some time for fun.
Some time to frolic and to play
Some time to sit in the sun all day.”

“Time to relax when work allows
I must make something to show them how!
Someone fluffy, someone funny,
But more intelligent than a bunny.”

God decided to make up cats,
To give them work, he made some rats.
When he was done, he picked one out
And started to throw the cat about!

The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
And God said, “If you scratch a man,

“Like you scratched me,
You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
But the cat didn’t feel remorse, of course.

The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
“This will not do,” said God to the cat.
“You won’t succeed if you act like that!”

“You must learn to apologize
Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
“Now, please, a penitent meow
and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”

The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
He absolutely refused to beg.
Well, God respects integrity,
In small animals you and me.

“You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
God reached down and stroked the cat,
Behind his ears, and down his back.

He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
When the cat began to purr.
“What a soft and soothing sound,”
Said tired old God as he sat down.

The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
And so God rested that seventh day.