85 thoughts on “The Comet-Watchers

  1. Linda,

    Must you make me cry with your eloquent words that befit our wonderous and furry friends? You have made your words sing yet again. Your kitty found true heaven when she found you or was it the the way around? No matter. Each has the other in the tentative grasp of life. And the cat that you saved from certain death on the street will continue to provide you with love and companionship. I can not think of a better find. Better than gold, diamonds, or a million dollars.

    Regards,
    Yvonne

    1. Yvonne,

      Well, as these things happen, that particular kitty isn’t with me any longer, but we were great friends while she was. She was named after the Muse, Calliope, so it’s fitting that she be part of a poem. And you would have loved her eyes – they were greener than any I’ve seen – almost emerald.

      Linda

      1. I love the cats that have the beautiful green eyes. I had one cat that had those kind of eyes and none since have come close to what his were in color. I need to ask you a question and will email you at some point. I know that you will have the answer.

        Yvonne

    1. Thanks, Julie. I’m glad you liked it. I can’t remember you ever mentioning a cat around your place. With all your peacocks and such, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea!

    1. WOL,

      I’ve always been fascinated by the “Here it comes! There it goes!” nature of comets. Their predictability, combined with long waits between appearances even for those with short periods, is a compelling combination. And with some, like Lulin, knowing that an event won’t come around again for a thousand years is worth putting myself out a bit.

      The comets always have been known as wanderers, appearing out of nowhere and setting their own path – if that’s not our felines, I don’t know what is!

      Linda

    1. Lisa,

      I once was asked how long it took me to write a poem. Since I rarely set out to write poems, I didn’t have much of an answer, but in this case, it was about four years. I was happy to revisit it after seeing Steve’s milkweed “comet”, and happy with the result of the re-working.

      I suspect you have the same experience. Revisiting a piece or a subject after time, making changes and being pleased as a result is a bit like self-tutoring. Asking, “why was that not quite right?” and “why is this better?” is a great exercise.

      But what’s most important is that you like it!

      Linda

      1. Yes, I think it was Stephen King (and probably many others) who suggested that one put the work in a drawer to let it rest! That is so true, and for me, the longer it rests the faster I spot many flaws.

        My favorite way to write is to be immersed in nature with pad and paper, and I scribble thoughts here, there, lasso some areas and draw arrows to place them in better spots. I love to take my pad with me when travelling, though the 668 East Beach was written on the ‘burrito’ laptop while I traveled between cities via mini bus! Writing by hand would make me carsick, but typing while looking out the window works great!

        I’m about to send a little token smile to your fruitcake post!

        z

        1. And letting things “rest” can be good for more than discovering flaws. In some processes, like bread-baking, the “rest” is part of the natural process. Sometimes, I think the mind reaches the destination first, and then the heart has to go back and travel the pathway to fill in the details. Letting a piece rest allows that process to take place.

          Interesting that I’m quite literally awaiting the arrival of a table with a drawer meant for letting pages rest. But more about that later. I’m not yet sure what the full story is, and I have to know that before I can tell it.

          Now – off to see what wonders have arrived at my fruitcake post!

  2. You’ve outdone yourself here. This is the sort of poem that, like a comet, grazes solar systems of meaning without touching them directly It’s often better to hint and imply—and even to allow some uncertainty of meaning—than to state outright.

    1. Thanks, Steve. It’s strange how an image like your milkweed fluff can restart a process once thought finished.

      What I didn’t mention on your blog is that the fluff not only appears comet-like, it also looks to me like a bit of white cat fur that’s been pulled out. With only a little more imagination, I can see stars caught in the fur.

      Really, it’s quite amazing that a plant, an animal and a celestial object can provide such similar images. The tag “nature’s analogies” seemed perfect.

      Linda

    2. Speaking of grazing solar systems of meaning…

      I was startled this morning while reading an article titled “Is Scientific Truth Always Beautiful?” This is what caught my attention and gave me a bit of a jolt:

      “Today the grandest quest of physics is to render compatible the laws of quantum physics—how particles in the subatomic world behave—with the rules that govern stars and planets. That’s because, at present, the formulas that work on one level implode into meaninglessness at the other level. This is deeply ungainly, and significant when the two worlds collide…”

      I thought of this poem immediately – the juxtaposition of the cat and the comet being at least somewhat analogous to the subject at hand. The experience also suggests why a liberal education used to be considered so important. There can be reciprocal relationships among disciplines – poetry helps to interpret physics, while physics adds layers of meaning to a poem. Very, very interesting.

      The full article was interesting, too.

      1. In college I had an astronomy teacher who once good-naturedly took a jab at liberal arts folks by noting that although he’d quoted from the Roman poet Lucretius in class, not many English teachers were likely to quote an astronomer in class.

    1. Wendy,

      You’ve made me remember one of my English teachers, who always insisted we find The Meaning of a Poem.

      She would have plunked “The Comet-Watchers” in front of us and said, “Now, class. What does this poem mean?” And someone would say, “It’s about how you always should include your pets when you go star-gazing.” Then someone would chime in with “It means you’re stupid if you lay in the middle of the parking lot in the middle of the night.” And away we’d go, until we had compiled about 165 “meanings” and the bell had rung.

      Some time ago, a commenter here recommended a book by John Ciardi called “How Does a Poem Mean?” I ordered it, and read it, and read it again, and delight in the fact that it’s as far from that English class as you could get. I’ve just been sitting here reading the first chapter, wishing I could put it in your hands this very minute.

      What I’ll do instead is give you these tidbits. “A poem is not simply something printed on the page. A poem is an event, and it happens when a poet and a reader meet inside [the poem].” And this. “Reading a poem is an act of participation in the poem. By participating, the reader not only makes the performance whole, but makes it…uniquely his.”

      Truth is, I can’t tell you “what the poem means”, and I wrote the danged thing! What I can do is invite you to read it and respond – with thought, with emotion, with action. Here’s the neat part – your response may even deepen my enjoyment of the poem!

      Linda

        1. Thanks, Hippie. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a hat trick before! Not only that, you’ll be pleased to know that we have the gerunds separated out. They’re in the back pasture, happily grazing away until they’re needed. ;-)

  3. I wondered if you were referring to Calliope.

    I’ve often thought about her. She disappeared so suddenly. I had hoped so much that someone would take her in. I know you couldn’t; Miss Dixie wouldn’t have allowed it.

    1. Gué,

      Yes, ma’am. That was Calliope. You know, she did disappear once, and then come back after a week or two. Then, she disappeared again. During that two weeks, I often watched her head to the other side of the complex. It may be that someone had taken her in, and she got out. Then, once they got her back home, they were more careful about keeping her a house cat.

      That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! There are alternative story lines, but we’ll leave them for heart-wrenching fiction. ;)

      Linda

      1. I certainly hope that’s what happened; I don’t like to think about the alternatives, either.

        You did as much as you could to make her life easier. Or as much as Miss Dixie would allow. Calliope seemed so sweet and she was a lovely cat. If I had been there, I probably would have taken her in.

  4. For me the poem does not have esoteric or hidden meaning. That is part of the beauty of it. I am laying down on the concrete star gazing with the cat’s desire for attention, my fingers curled in its fur and murmuring assurances of time’s continuity!!

    Love the parallelism of the nature of the comet and the cat! I really do love this poem!!

    PS: My mother never let me lay in the street (sidewalk?)!! I stargazed on my back from the relative comfort of the grass!! So the poem brought back wonderful memories of being a kid and searching the stars for the shapes of constellations. Orion was my favourite.

    1. Judy,

      I really enjoy that parallelism, myself. The only thing I’ll note is that comets seem to be more predictable than cats!

      We did most of our star-gazing from the grassy backyard, too. Of course, it was much more comfortable in Iowa than it would be here. No worries about prickly grass or fireants. Sometimes chiggers, but not often.

      I loved Orion, too. We could see him, and the Dippers, from home. Sometimes we’d go out into the country to look for fainter ones. The big event of my star-gazing life was finally seeing the Southern Cross – but you may have grown up with that one. The skies are wonderful.

      Do you ever wonder if your birds watch the stars?

      Linda

    1. Debbie,

      Actually, no – although that would have been good. I named her Calliope, for the Muse of Poetry. Apparently it was a good choice – not every cat in the world gets her own poem!

      I’m glad the imagery pleases you. That makes me happy.

      Linda

    1. nikkipolani,

      They do have their ways, don’t they? Dixie’s taken now to sitting up on her haunches by the side of the bed in the morning, miaowing until I wake up and look over to see her giving me “the look”. Like this .”

      Linda

  5. “A thousand years are passing.
    A thousand years have passed.”
    Love this. We have read and even seen movies that contemplate how one detail in time sends out ripples, trails of influence or action set in motion. How long does/will our comet last?

    1. Georgette,

      Having lived with those lines for a day or so, I can’t help remembering an expression I so often heard as a child: “Don’t blink!” It was used when traveling through tiny, almost disappeared towns, or when watching the last, unexpected snow. If you blinked, it would be gone, and you’d never see it again.

      It’s the nature of time and existence. We live with the foolish notion that we’ll last forever, or at least that the world will. “Forever?” Who can grasp that, or guarantee it?

      No one has captured the mystery any better than Judy Collins, with her version of Sandy Denny’s song. I’m sure it was part of your younger years, too. Who does know where the time goes?

      Linda

    1. The Bug,

      You know as well as I do that cats always are in charge. Even when they aren’t, they make us wish they were – until we put them back in charge again. It’s just the way of the world. Poetry and photos are fine, as long as we remember our place in life. ;)

      Linda

    1. Allen,

      Indeed, they do. It’s one of the most deeply appealing aspects of Christian faith, as far as I’m concerned. If God wants to show up, the stuff of ordinary life is a perfectly acceptable channel. A comet, a curbstone, a cat – even a Toccata and Fugue! – will do just fine.

      Besides – all that ordinariness cuts down on the paparazzi. ;)

      Linda

    1. Bella Rum,

      What a treat to see you roaming around this morning! I think about you a lot, hoping things are going well.

      Yes, dear Calliope got a good bit of play for a while. Gué was exactly right in her comment above – had Dixie Rose not been on the scene, Calliope would be sleeping in one of my chairs this morning. She was a sweetheart, but if Dixie was barely going to let my mom in the house, I don’t think she would have done well with another kitty.

      I’m so glad you like the poem. I hope you’re in a place where you’re getting out into the world a bit. No comets? That’s ok. I suspect you’d be happy to see trees, grass, parking lots, garbage cans…;)

      Linda

  6. What a beautiful poem…. Just wonderful. Had to read, re-read, and read again. I do hope that beautiful Calliope is safe and sound in this dangerous world of ours, and has loving caretakers.

    Funny — when we found (I searched high and low for my brother’s shelter dog) her, and she placed her head in my lap on the way to his house, I knew she was Callista. The most beautiful, and destined for the stars. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      There’s an astronomical connection with Callista, too. One of Jupiter’s moons is named Callisto (the masculine form), and there’s a main-belt asteroid named 204 Kallisto that was discovered by Johann Palisa on October 8, 1879 in Croatia.

      It’s such a delight to know that you’ve read and re-read. I often find myself putting up a favorite photograph from your site or others as a desktop, just because I don’t want to let go of it. It’s fun to “dwell” in a photo, poem or musical selection now and then, allowing it to reveal itself over time – just like our creatures do.

      Linda

      1. Ah, how wonderful! So very nice…

        In researching Callista (after her name came to me), I did learn about Jupiter’s moons — so many references to the heavens and gods with that one. It was very fitting. I LOVED your name choice, though. Just perfect.

  7. Such an evocative photograph that was–it has stayed in my mind since. Where you’ve gone following the trail of its inspiration is remarkable. “rescuing her realm/from a universe gone mad” is a brilliant line, and the poem’s close provides a heavenly frisson of recognition and wonder. I loved just walking around in this poem.

    1. Susan,

      Astrophotography amazes me. Have you ever gone to Astronomy Picture of the Day?. Todays offering is an amazing mash-up of videos of the Russian meteor. In the past, they’ve shown everything from comet passages to sun activity to deep space galaxies. Just wonderful.

      The comet that occasioned this poem, Lulin, was remarkably green, and the color was visible even with binoculars. The truth of the matter is that my first thoughts about it involved that old song by Sugarloaf – “Green-Eyed Lady . The first line of the song is, “Green-eyed lady, lovely lady, strolling slowly towards the sun…” So that’s where I started. I’m glad that’s not where I stopped. And I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Linda

  8. Linda, this is beautiful, although I must be preoccupied today, because I didn’t understand that it was about your cat. Then again, I didn’t know you when you first wrote of her. Reading all the comments helped me to understand better.

    Even missing that it was the cat I did feel this is the prettiest poem that I have read of yours.

    1. Lynda,

      I must say – I like this one, too, and the kind of delicacy that makes it pretty is part of what I like so much.

      And you need to trust your first instincts. I wouldn’t say it’s “exactly” just about the cat – take a look at my comment to Bayou Woman up above (sixth comment down) for a little explanation of all that.

      I’ll say this. There’s nothing like being completely engrossed in star-gazing only to feel someone tugging on your hair. I had no idea a cat would do that – it was quite an extraordinary experience!

      Linda

      1. I came back with a clear head this evening, feeling restful, and now suddenly the words just fell into place! Then I could see you lying there, with kitty pulling on your hair. The imagery was perfect as if I had been there to witness the moment.

        As your instructor would have known, there are many layers of meaning there in your lines. The more I read, the more I understand… That I should never attempt reading poetry after having talked to my nut job sister on the phone! ;)

  9. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”
    Often I just come here because it’s quiet.
    100% of the comments are positive regarding the above poem and I can honestly say I liked it too.
    What a relief!
    I read too much Monbiot and WU climate debate so when I read your posts it is like a veil is lifted.
    It is still beautiful in this place.

    1. Ken,

      Or, as Ecclesiastes so neatly put it, to everything there is a season, to everything a time. There’s a time for the climate uproar, and passionate discussion, and defending positions (civilly or not). But there’s also a time for living in the (quiet) moment – for the stars, the soughing of the wind, the call of the nightbird.

      There’s even a time for writing poetry. I’m glad you liked this one. I suppose part of the reason I keep at this is because I want to capture and keep some of the beauty I see in a form that will let me go back and re-experience it. Some people do it with paint, some with photography, some with music. I guess for me, it’s going to be words.

      Linda

    1. montucky,

      Both worlds are far more complex, mysterious and beautiful than I would have imagined some decades ago. One of the great experiences of my life has been learning, over time, that knoweldge doesn’t necessarily diminish mystery – if we could grasp that truth a more firmly, perhaps some of the science/faith arguments would lose a little of their harshness.

      Linda

  10. Oh, Linda. Anyone who has ever been chosen by a new sweet cat, especially a stray, can fall into your words and be where we once were. Falling in love with the sweet furry one who will love us and watch the stars with us — a hundred, no, a thousand years from now. I see you in these words, and Dixie Rose. And I smile, because I see us all.

    1. jeanie,

      And nothing in life is more extraordinary than the sudden realization that we have been chosen – we didn’t seek the relationship, we didn’t covet it or attempt to entice. It just happens.
      When I realized it was that kitty pulling on my hair, I was astonished. Call me crazy, but I knew she was worried – and I suddenly comprehended the depth of her attachment.

      It’s well worth a smile.

      Linda

  11. What stunning visions there are here. I love how the thoughts of people and souls of cats can intermingle throughout the constellations. Sometimes I believe that a cat’s grace can only find comfort when it is purring amongst the stars.

    1. aubrey,

      And all of those marvelous qualities of the cat – and the complexities of their place in the universe and their relationships with humans – have been known for millenia.

      When the most recent King Tut exhibit came to Houston, one of the pieces I found most compelling was this sarcophagus for one of the royal cats. No, I didn’t hear any purring from inside, but then – they didn’t let us lift the lid.

      Linda

    1. Gerry,

      It occurred to me when I saw that last, ethereal photo of The Cowboy that doggie fur would do as well as kitty fur when it comes to the consolation of a warm, living world on four feet. I hope you had sweet dreams of sweet, warm, star-gazing nights.

      Linda

  12. I really like the picture I can see in this poem. There’s a lovely tension between your gazing and the cats insistence for attention – both in your own moments. Beautifully done.

    I had a cat which woke me up in the morning for his breakfast by chewing my hair! I had these short tufty bits all over my head ;)

    1. Sarah,

      The evening was very much an experience of “when worlds collide” – mine, kitty’s and the comet’s. It’s not entirely crazy to imagine the whole thing as a Venn diagram. Where the three worlds intersect is where the poem emerged.

      Thank goodness I don’t have a hair-chewer for an alarm clock. On the other hand, if miaowing doesn’t do the trick, Dixie’s been known to head into the bathroom and start slamming on of the cabinet doors. I lay in bed and think, “Gotta let latches”. Then the day starts, and I forget until the next time.

      LInda

      1. Laughing…

        Thinking of doors, cats obviously have a thing about them – another one I had used to be able to open doors by jumping up and hanging on the door handles!

        Just got my copy of Prairy Erth, looking forward to getting my head into that…

    1. Andrew,

      Steve does wonderful street photography, too. It’s just that his streets and their inhabitants are a little different from yours. (There are plenty of analogies to be drawn, of course!)

      I’m glad you found the poem enjoyable. When I think about it, I’m really quite amazed that we have the ability to capture and communicate emotion with images or words. It’s remarkable.

      Linda

  13. I love your eloquent poem! It appeared amidst landing meteorites, passing meteors, and a movie I watched that I’d never heard of called Melancholia (for anyone who doesn’t want to know its ending—stop reading this comment now.)

    Your description of the balance between our awe with all things celestial and the joy of loving our fellow creatures made me think of the film’s ending. In the final moments of life on earth, the character who lived her life unable to strongly tie to relationships spends her last seconds with her eyes fixed upon the face of her sister. Her sister, who lived her life devoid of the wonder of it all, finally looks up.

    1. Claudia,

      We certainly have had our share of celestial events, haven’t we? Comets are more predictable than asteroids (once they’re discovered, at any rate), but their infrequent appearances still stirs wonder and excitement.

      The movie (which I’ve not heard of) sounds like a good one. Role reversal makes for good drama, especially in such a poignant situation. I’ve never been much of a film-watcher, but I find that’s changing because of other peoples’ recommendations and reviews. This sounds like a good one to put on my list. Thanks for mentioning it!

      Linda

    1. Anna,

      Thanks so much! It was a delightful experience – if a little startling at the time! – and delightful to reshape it into words.

      Have you ever done any photography of the night sky? I’m fascinated by images like this. At least you have some darkness to work with – there’s too much light pollution here. The next time I come to Kansas, I’m going to check the sky charts as well as the map. With access to the Tallgrass Prairie available 24/7, it would be such fun to time a visit with one of the meteor showers!

      Linda

  14. I like the connected references to “heaven’s alleyways,” “Saturn’s stoop,” “curbstone-pillowed,” and “concrete bound.” It may seem that the comet is the wanderer, but from its frame of reference, we’re the ones roaming the darkness.

    1. Charles,

      Perspective is everything, isn’t it? The older I become, the more I realize what a gift years and experience can be. As our life’s horizon shifts, so does the appearance of events and circumstances.

      I didn’t realize until a day or so ago that the “curbstone pillow” could point in yet another direction. Remember the story of Jacob and Esau? Jacob was fleeing his twin brother Esau after tricking him out of his rightful blessing as the firstborn. He rested at a city called Luz and used a group of stones as a pillow. It’s said he saw a ladder reaching up to heaven, with angels going up and down. Who knows what that’s about? It’s a good reason to keep looking, though.

      Linda

  15. I always love your poetry Linda. You use such beautiful word pictures… I can see you on the concrete and the cat pulling your hair…

    no longer rising tall against the sky but flattened to the ground,
    eyes turned upward,
    head bent back as though the victim of a fall. …

    Reading the comments I see you spent 2 years working on the last two lines? Wow. They are perfect!

    I also love the quotes from John Ciardi’s book “How Does a Poem Mean?”

    “A poem is not simply something printed on the page. A poem is an event, and it happens when a poet and a reader meet inside [the poem].”

    me thinks I must get the book.

    1. Rosie,

      You would love Ciardi’s book. It’s more a textbook than a how-to book, but it’s a lovely mix of anthology and rumination. (A question arises: could “rumination” also apply to pondering the poetry of Rumi? Or is it, perhaps, a reference to the followers of the poet Rumi?!)

      One of the wonderful little coincidences here is that the concept of poem as event is closely related to Luther’s concept of the “living Word”. He always contended that the word of God isn’t just dead words on a page, but a word that confronted us inside life. My beloved professor said the same thing about great literature – and he made it live for us. (He was the one who introduced us to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” by asking, “If you had to wear a “scarlet letter”, which one would it be?”)

      One thing – I didn’t really “work on” those last two lines for two years. I let them sit and percolate, and when it came to be re-writing time, they just popped up after a few hours. It was just like going to bed, frustrated because I can’t find a word, and then waking up with it clearly in mind – except the lag time was a little longer. ;)

      Linda

  16. Linda, I so love your way with words, how you can create images, correspondances (Baudelairian style) between cat and comet here. It makes me realize and appreciate the richness of your language and how little I know, how much more there is to look forward to.

    My neighbour has a white cat with deep green eyes, Renia. When she visits at night, not a bit shocked by Ninio’s furious barks, her brilliant eyes look like small comets on their way to quieter spaces.

    1. Isa,

      It’s a delightful encouragement to me that you speak of the richness of the English language. I think we’re often too timid with our words, too unwilling to bend and shape our language in new and creative ways. My little poems have been one way for me to begin trying out these “new ways” – I’m so glad you enjoyed this one.

      I love the image of Renia I have in my mind. I can see her eyes, and her utter self-possession. She knows where she’s going, and dear Ninio won’t deter her at all!

      LInda

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