Overheard in a Thrift Shop

discount store

Tuesday is Rescue Story Day, but it’s been a while since I’ve posted this poem about rescues and about life, literally written from a conversation I overheard in a thrift shop.  

Overheard in a Thrift Shop

© 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Oh, look at this yellow lab painting, it’s so nice. I’ve always liked yellow labs. I have one now.

I don’t have a dog, but I wish I could.

Well, I always said I wouldn’t get a dog unless it was a rescue,
so I probably wouldn’t get a yellow lab,
but this dog came from a neighbor’s daughter
her brother had been feeding the dog—
she had twelve puppies.

Twelve puppies?!

Yes, and they all lived.
The owner put them all outside
and he probably never fed her right.
The boys found her and started taking her food.
Their sister found out
and went and told the guy she was taking the dog and the puppies.
He didn’t care.

Well, how did you get the dog?

Well, this girl, she was only 17,
but she knew right from wrong,
and she found homes for a few puppies and took the rest to the shelter.
She got the mother spayed and things were fine,
then she was killed in a car accident.

Oh, my!

Her father took care of the dog, but then he went to jail.

Oh, no. So did you take the dog?

I offered to keep the dog until he got out;
it’s a short sentence—
he’ll be out later this year.

Bless your heart!
Are you sure he wants the dog?

He already asked about her.
Think it has to do with losing his daughter.
I mean, she was only 17, and killed in an accident.

Shame.

I’m sure the cat will miss the dog too. They’re friends.

You have a cat too?
You sure got a full house.

Yeah, the cat belonged to my daughter-in-law,
she got him for the boys,
but after a year or so, the cat started to pee on the boys’ things,
they were going into puberty, you know,
I think it was that hormonal thing.
She tried everything, but the cat wouldn’t stop.
She gave him to a neighbor, an older man
who lived by himself,
and the man kept the cat in the basement with a litterbox and food and water.
Then the man told me the cat was getting some litter on the floor.
That’s okay, I told him, just sweep it up, it’s probably clean.
Then the cat started coming upstairs,
and he told me it was pushing his golf balls around.
That’s okay, I said, that’s playful.
Then he said the cat woke him up in the morning, he touched his nose to the man’s,
and I said, just give the cat to me.

Bless your heart! You are a soft touch.

Yeah, I don’t know how it will be when the dog goes,
but he lives close, I’ll be able to see her,
and I’ll be ready to take her back at any time.
At least I’ll have my cat.

This was a conversation between two people which I overheard, secretly taking notes, as I was browsing the overcrowded racks of a local thrift shop after dropping off some dishes for donation. The rhythm of a conversation between two people who know each other well and working in tandem, in this case the cashier and a volunteer who were unpacking and tagging things, has a rhythm of its own built on the familiarity of the two people, and can often sound like poetry, so instead of my initial idea for a short story based on their conversation, I wrote it up as verse.

Honest, open, unguarded conversation between two people is so precious.

I showed the cashier my writing later and asked if she minded if I published her story in this way. She was fine with the idea and told her friend, the volunteer. The cashier and I have since become friends.

cat rug

The cat rug (folded).

I was determined not to purchase anything when I dropped off my donations, but right inside the door was this feline-themed rug…and I was hooked. These are nice to have around the house, and often I use them in my displays at shows or festivals, indoors or out, especially if I’m on concrete. They also come in handy as donation items to benefit shelters and animal organizations. Since this one looks completely new, that may be its fate, my way of thanking the universe for giving me this poem.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


The Gift of a Morning

tortoiseshell cat in greens

Cookie in my garden.

My sincerest wish as I remember Cookie is that all of you who read what I write, each of you who has a relationship with one or more animals, that your relationship is as deep, complex, satisfying and, if your species or breed allows it, as long-lasting as was Cookie’s and mine. I could never feel that I have any regrets, that Cookie and I “missed” anything but we lived as full a life as a human and cat could do. It depends on many things often beyond our control, but I wish those things for everyone who loves an animal, now and always.

Cookie gave me many gifts in all the years she was with me, including the visual discoveries from this particular morning in September 2011 which led to a poem and insights beyond what I wrote that morning, and remembering that morning and other mornings I have come to the end of a stage. The poem text and an audio version of the poem with a slideshow are at the end of this post.

tortie cat in front of painting

Cookie, my art assistant at age 19.

The last weeks have been working through a series of “never agains” as I remember and let go of the unique things Cookie did—stepping into a warmed pasta bowl while my back was turned; quietly climbing her way into any spot in the house despite her disabilities; loving every cat who was in the house when she came here and all the ones who came after; greeting everyone at the door with sincerity and making them feel welcome.

tortie cat with painting

Cookie my art assistant, at age one!

I have also been resuming everyday activities I had been intentionally avoiding somewhat or completely, those that Cookie and I enjoyed together and I now do alone or without her—sitting in the kitchen after dinner to crochet or read with all the cats around, where you see so many photos of her interacting with my crochet materials; visiting the deck and back yard each morning regardless of weather to feed the birds, drink coffee and take photos; and gardening, from starting the seeds in the basement to getting dirty out in the soil.

Much to the joy of the household, I’ve begun to take a break after dinner again so everyone can walk on me and test my crochet projects. Until yesterday I totally avoided my deck except for the first few days in February when Mimi joined me, only filling the feeder outside my office window, and yesterday I spent my first full afternoon in the yard without a cat in many years.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

And this morning I sat outside on my swing with coffee and crochet, a Sunday morning ritual whenever the weather was nice enough (nice to me and Cookie was anything above 40 degrees and no heavy precipitation) as I remembered all the years she had gone off to explore the yard then come back to climb up on my lap and have a nap, just Cookie and me doing things we enjoyed and each other, best friends.

We knew

I’ve been sharing daily photos and stories from previous years because so many more readers have found The Creative Cat in the past few months. We see a lot of Cookie from last year, including a number of photo essays of her adventures outdoors. I photographed her excessively all through the years, but the extra postings were intentional. I knew what was coming. I knew because Cookie knew, and let me know.

tortie cat on coat

You're Not Going Anywhere For A While

From January 2011, around the time my mother died when Cookie grew weak and lethargic for no apparent reason, we presumed it was because she, as usual, was carrying part of my stress. She recovered, but I saw in her expression a realization. She kept slipping back every month or so, losing a little ground in between and even having a few close calls with her kidneys, and we decided we’d treat every symptom we could and enjoy the rest of our time together.

She stole her last month, January 2012, right out of the jaws of death as after Christmas 2011 she was again lethargic and anorexic, and worst of all suddenly lost use of her hind legs, her body temperature kept dropping and her heart rate increased; her blood tests were frightening. That truly was to be the time but she fought it off, a little adjustment in medications helped but mostly it was her working very hard for just a little more time. We saw her in January looking and acting like Cookie, but I saw she had little control of her hind legs, her body temperature remained depressed, she had increasing difficulty breathing as her heart grew more enlarged and her heart rate slowly increased.

cat looking into flower pot

Cookie checks the "cookie jar", an old canister I used for outdoor plants this year.

Cookie needed a little help getting started each day, but once she was going she was Cookie again, until that last day. The previous afternoon, warm for February 1, we went outside, a treat since that was usually reserved for mornings only during the week, perhaps we knew. She had no interest in exploring but got herself onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curled up and purred. We went in with the memory of that warm sunny afternoon. The next morning I had to carry her outside for the first time in her life, and as I sat with her on my lap she did not revive as usual, ready to explore even just a little, just remained curled on my lap purring.

sparrow in forsythia

The song sparrow in the forsythia (it's hard to find).

Though it was still winter the birds were singing their spring songs, our friends the chickadees and cardinals and wrens who we’d fed and watched all winter. During a brief silence a song sparrow landed in the forsythia just a few feet away from us and sang its familiar three-note-then-warble melody several times, and I knew it was singing to us, and I knew what it meant. It was February 2, that magical cross-quarter day when winter finally begins to turn into spring, a time of transition where death falls away and new life begins. They were singing her home.

tortoiseshell cat in purple

Holding Cookie that last morning.

I am so grateful that I could just drop everything that day and spend her last hours with her, monitoring her condition and managing her discomfort with the advice and materials given to me by my veterinarian, sitting with her on my lap in the studio, our favorite room, ready to call my veterinarian or run her to the emergency clinic at a moment’s notice if the need arose. In the course of that last month there were many things I wanted to do for her but simply could not afford and tried not to be regretful in those last hours, thinking they would have made any difference or bought any more time; they were superfluous in her condition, and likely would only have made me feel better, not Cookie. What she wanted was me, and that I could give to her.

At 3:00 the next morning, February 3, lying next to me on the floor with all the other cats around, she opened her eyes and found my face, put her paw on my hand and held my gaze for several seconds, comforting me, thanking me and saying goodbye; she stopped breathing about an hour later.

Always with us

Loss is never made easier or less painful by any amount of experience or knowledge, but the long, slow goodbye of that last year was sweeter than words can describe. Relationships like Cookie’s and mine are rare but we who have experienced them know they never end, not even with death. Cookie has visited me in spirit, but she is always with me as well, just as she was for 19 happy years.

photo of cat and flowered dress

Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

On the day, at the moment, when I regretfully and emotionally decided to close my shop at Carnegie Antiques where she was my “shop cat”, the back door of the room lightly blew open and I felt Cookie enter, could see her hobbled little gait as she walked a circle around my feet, one of her lifetime habits, and her tilted face looking up at me half orange and half black, her green eyes with gold flecks; she was with me as I walked all around the building remembering all the places I’d seen and photographed her in the times she’d been there with me. As always, she appeared at just the right moment with her comforting and practical manner. I should only hope to meet a human with half as much wisdom and willing compassion as that little tortie cat.

We haven’t seen the last of Cookie. She will still show up in new postings of prior daily photos, and I’ve had a few paintings of or including her that I’ve been planning for a while.

And the passing of an animal companion like Cookie has always meant for me the coming of a time of transition and personal growth. Cookie led me to the door and opened it, it’s up to me to walk through and do something when I get there.

Here is the poem, and you can also watch it with the embedded video, below, or view it on YouTube.

The Gift of a Morning

I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and burdock
where I couldn’t follow.

She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods.
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Green Sparkle Ball

photo of cat with sparkly green ball

Giuseppe and His Green Sparkle Ball

On the subject of poetry and cats, here is a poem I read at my 2009 poetry reading inspired by Giuseppe and all cats at play, and how that relates to my own creative thought and that of all humans.

Cats are pretty intelligent, so I’ve never been able to figure out how they fool themselves into thinking that a little sparkly green ball is an object of prey, especially when they get all carried away and race all over the house, growl at other cats when they come near the catch, and stash it in a safe place when they are done.

I figure it’s a starting point for the imagination, something to follow down the rabbit hole like Alice into a wonderland of discovery.

I have not created a slideshow with a reading of this poem, in part because I didn’t have images I wanted to use to illustrate it and didn’t want to read with a blank screen or just the image of Giuseppe! I decided to go ahead and record it anyway because I wanted to try out another trial software. See below for the link.

GREEN SPARKLE BALL

Loping along, he freezes in mid-stride at the sight of it,
silently flattens himself, tail straight out behind,
ears alert, pupils dilated in amber eyes glowing from black fur,
his whole world centered on his prey,
a little wiggle of the hind end and he creeps forward
one soundless step, then another,
now, completely ready, he springs onto his prey,
a small bright green fuzzy ball with sparkly silver threads poking out all around.

Something about this toy sets off the receptors in Giuseppe’s brain
even though it’s been sitting innocently on the carpet
not moving or making sounds or being in any way provocative,
at the sight of it he’s transformed into the efficient killing machine
which is any feline.

Up into the air goes the green sparkle ball,
he swats, chases, corners it,
a big cat at 18 months, Giuseppe is 13 pounds of dense muscle,
but he picks it up delicately in his teeth and bounds up the stairs two or three at a time,
I hear him galloping around, even hear the bedsprings
as he pursues his prey around the second floor.

I’ve known this cat since he was two days old,
he has never been closer to the outdoors than a screened window,
he has never had to hunt for his dinner
except to find his way to the kitchen.
His mother had no chance to catch some unlucky mouse or chipmunk
and bring it home for an educational demonstration.
Why, then, this activity?

Later, he is sprawled on the bed with his brothers
and I find the green sparkle ball floating in the water bowl;
he does this with his toy, drops it in the bowl when he’s done playing
as if it’s stashed in a place where it can’t escape while he naps
and he can take up where he left off when he awakens.

Cats are not easily fooled.
When you get them a toy that looks like a real mouse
and toss it and push it around then retrieve it yourself,
they watch politely
and when you are done, resume their nap.

This object looks nothing like any prey he might ever chase.
So why is he chasing it?
And why does Cookie play pick-up soccer with a ping-pong ball,
and Kelly leap all around about a scrap of paper,
and the elusive panther caught on motion-sensor camera run after a blowing leaf
and the lion chase his tail?
Surely they see the green sparkle ball for what it is,
or are they so focused on their pretense
that for the concentrated time of play
the toy is convincingly real
and their activity vital?

Do I have a green sparkle ball,
something that relieves me from rational thought
and plunges me wholly into a world
entirely formed of my imagination?
Is that something that humans lost
in the development of rational thought,
our oversized brains finding this process unnecessary,
or is it there beneath our every discovery,
guiding our creative efforts?
When we let our mind play,
our thoughts creating a reality out of the raw materials available,
does that deep focus on the green sparkle ball
pull together seemingly unrelated bits we’ve gathered
and put them in an order we’d never otherwise see?
Did Einstein have a green sparkle ball,
that his thoughts pursued
until it led him to his theory?
Starting the first fire, inventing the wheel,
Proving the world is round, finding a vaccination for smallpox,
Composing a symphony, sculpting the iconic figure,
Creating any device that changes the world around it,
Does it start with chasing the green sparkle ball?

poem © 2009 B.E. Kazmarski

Listen and watch a very slow slideshow

I chose only four images for this four-minute poem, so be patient with the slow transitions! I hope you enjoy them, and the poem. You can find it on YouTube, or click the video link below. (Mlle., the first two minutes are for you.)

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Pawprints and Raindrops

photo of cat on drawing table

Cookie on my art table

This post is really not about the gratuitous photo of Cookie reclining on my art table out on the deck one fine summer afternoon a few years ago, though I do fondly remember how often she accompanied me—no, she supervised me—wherever I was, demanding to be outside with me and promising to be good. This photo was with the original post in 2010.

In addition to Cookie, this post was one I published two years ago on this day and it includes a poem I’d written and read that year at my annual poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall entitled “Pawprints and Raindrops” and it actually features my other tortoiseshell kitty, Kelly.

This poem went on to be published in a variety of sites on the internet, and it also won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion for poetry from the Cat Writer’s Association in 2010. Since I’m on a roll with practicing the recording of readings, I thought I’d record this one along with a slideshow of images. A link is after the poem, below.

Coming Spring poetry reading, 2010.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 was the date for “Coming Spring”, my fourth annual poetry reading and art exhibit at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, my home town. I featured 10 new poems and and the fourth and final painting of my “Art of the Watershed” series, “Spring Morning at a Bend in the Creek”, plus a display of favorite originals, prints and notecards; you can see the painting and read more about this event on my “What’s New?” blog.

My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.

Looking at my body of work, this, of course, includes my cats, and my cats are vitally involved in the paintings and photos I create; even if they aren’t the subject, they are somehow physically involved with their creation by sitting on my lap, rolling pastels off my table, drinking watercolor rinse water and so on.

Most visitors to The Creative Cat are familiar with my feline paintings, but I haven’t published too much of my feline poetry. I read this poem at my reading this year, and sometime soon I’ll feature other poems as well, some of which have photos, paintings or illustrations to accompany.

About this poem…have you ever partly awakened and combined your sleepy thoughts with the reality of your surroundings? So I did one rainy morning in summer. As at least one of my kitties is always vigilant about me, my little tortoiseshell kitty Kelly realized that I was nearing waking probably before I did and came over to greet me, and with her help I slipped off into an illusion of dreamy contentment.

PAWPRINTS AND RAINDROPS

I am not awake but aware
of the sound of raindrops
whispering in the leaves and tapping on the roof
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.

poem © 2010 B. E. Kazmarski

Now you can listen to the poem too

I’ve recorded it with a slideshow of images and uploaded it to YouTube, but you can click the embedded video below and watch it right here.

And visit yesterday’s poem too, Things I Found in the Woods.

Other places it was published

I am grateful to the websites who published this poem and led to my winning the Certificate and Medallion. Pawprints and Raindrops and my painting “Sunday Morning” were featured on the award-winning The Daily Tail blog (now Taildom)! Please visit to read and enjoy, and also to read wide-ranging daily stories and images about cats, dogs, cows, birds, deer and just about anything else with fur or feathers…or scales…or…

This poem was also featured in Catnip Chronicles in April 2010, and this was the reference for which I won the award, so click over there to read it and then subscribe to this monthly online journal of all things cat!

I’ll have one more cat poem from 2010 tomorrow, but I’m not sure what I’ll use for the slideshow…

About my poetry and poetry readings

In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. ACFL&MH invited me to perform a poetry reading and to display the artwork that inspired those poems.

After each show I’ve built a web page with the poetry and art I featured. Please visit, read my poetry and view my artwork. My prior readings have been:

paths i have walked poetry book

"Paths I Have Walked", book of poetry.

“Paths I Have Walked”in 2007, featuring “Dusk in the Woods”;

“Winter Twilight” in 2008, featuring “Summer Morning on the Creek”;

“Change of Season” in 2009, featuring “Autumn Comes to the Valley”;

“Coming Spring” in 2010, featuring “Spring Comes to a Bend in the Creek”

In 2011 I published a small book of my poetry from these four readings entitled Paths I Have Walked. Right now it’s still available in print—read more about it on my Portraits of Animals Marketplace blog or order it from my website—but one of the reasons I keep reading these poems is to practice reading them for the audio version of this book. I am also preparing it for various e-readers.

I’ll have one more poem from this year tomorrow.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Things I Found in the Woods, 2012

fern frond in the woods

A delicate fern frond reaches for the sun from last year's dried stems.

Every year the winter opens up to a few days of warm intoxicating sun and mud in January and often in February, and I’ve run outside to celebrate the day. This year it was February 5, two days after Cookie died, and as I enjoyed the warm day and remembered this poem, I knew exactly what I wanted to create as a dedication to my faithful heart cat, my best friend.

I originally wrote this poem in 2006, for Moses as I knew her body was failing and she had little time left, and originally wrote this post in February 2011. What I wrote last year about this time of year is still how I feel today, so I won’t change it, but bear in mind that its references are a year old.

And I have a link to the poem with slideshow at the end of the article along with a few notes about creating it. I have some things to learn about this, but I think I’m going to enjoy reading my poems this way, and I’m glad I could do this for Cookie.

FEBRUARY 2011—I ran out for a happy two-hour sojourn as far as I could go on the trail and into the woods to see the brilliant swatches of green here and there, the stream rushing along, birds flying crazily overhead and singing in one big chorus.

rushing stream

The water still cold but running free.

I took off my shoes and ran through the mud in my bare feet, stepping into the freezing, rushing water of the stream, climbing hills and rock faces and photographing with my camera and my mind’s eye and all my senses the exhilaration of this day, coming back with muddy feet, wild hair filled with leaves and twigs, scratches on my arms and lots of images and inspiration.

It’s a traditional respite from a frozen winter, a “spring thaw”, too early to be permanent but enough to reawaken our senses and begin stirring the life forces in all of nature.

The full moon in February is often called the “Hunger Moon”; though people have managed through the deepest extended cold of winter, their food stores put by at the previous autumn’s harvest may be near gone and a frozen landscape still surrounds with not much nourishment in sight until the first edible greens begin to sprout in March or later in far north regions. People and animals who’d made it this far would often perish if spring was too long in coming.

moss on log

Mosses leaf out and bloom.

But beneath the snow plants have been gathering energy, seeds are swelling, roots are spreading, and above the snow the days are growing longer. Just two warm days in January or February are long enough to melt the snowcover and pour it into streams, soften the top layer of loam in the woods and everything that has life will spring to life, even if only temporarily, insects hatching, mosses blooming, ferns sending spores into the wind, living just long enough to reproduce, though the parents themselves may not survive.

These in turn provide a burst of food and fresh water for birds and animals to rejuvenate and energize and prepare for the effort of the months ahead, giving birth and raising their young.

I’ve always found the spring thaw, whenever it comes, to be a magical time, a gift from our compassionate mother in nature, perhaps, the world so full of life and energy that tired souls weary of the struggle of daily existence in a harsh frozen world will be reminded of better days to come. It is a moment outside of normal chronological time that we can find peace in a chapter of hardship, difficulty or sadness.

Brilliant Memories

This day also reminded me of a similar spring thaw five years ago when I knew that my Moses was letting go. I hadn’t lost a cat in quite some time and was frightened at the prospect, though she was calm and accepting. I just happened to be in the woods for a photo assignment the day I realized Moses’ condition, and as the air was full of life around me I decided to take some time in the woods after the assignment.

It was that loving respite from my fear and worry, the life and energy around me, that filled my heart with the understanding and acceptance I needed to help Moses through her last time, and, as it turned out, four others within the next 18 months; it would not end there.

cat in garden

Moses in her garden

But now all my losses have become one and are no longer losses, not a big chasm of dark sadness but a bright collective of memories of all their lives mingled with mine in the same way I remember the turns of the seasons. Their losses are not separate from me and my life, but their lives are a permanent part of who I am and the cats I live with today as I remember being in the garden with Moses, the day I first saw Stanley with ice crystals collecting on his fur, the way the furniture was arranged when I moved in here and everyone collected on the table by the door when I left in the morning, watching Mimi outside and deciding she should come to live with me.

Their lives are not a part of my past, but of my present; just as the earth holds the memories of all that’s past and turns it into new life, so do I.

We are resilient; even after the harshest treatment has forced us to retreat and protect ourselves, we are ready again for the fullness of life when encouraging conditions return.

The Poem

I wrote the first six verses of this poem sitting on a moss and lichen-covered rock in the woods that day I realized my life was about to change with Moses’ imminent transition, then the last verse during her last few days though I was never happy with it. This year I found the words that were, well, right, for Moses and Cookie and all others and realize the poem is not about loss, but about letting go of anything you love.

Dedicated to Moses, the most gentle, loving being I have ever encountered.

Things I Found in the Woods

Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling all around
hurrying down hillsides before the freeze returns.

A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, practicing its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.

Ferns, newly-green, draped on cliffs,
fluttering like garlands in the mild, caressing breeze
gathering a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.

Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.

Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
cavorting as if winter might not return tomorrow.

An understanding that life and love are cycles,
and that the moment must be taken for what it offers
even if what it offers is not what we expect.

The strength and courage to show as much dignity as you,
and to walk this last precious part of your path with you
and when I can walk no more beside you
to let you go.

I had never before experienced the spring thaw in such wonderment at the transience of life—still winter but everything that lived was taking advantage of the moment.

So was Moses. So should I.

So I resolved just to let her follow her course and she would let me know what to do.

two cats on a pillow

On a Rainy Afternoon, Cookie and Mimi

I have kept this lesson in my heart with each of the older kitties I’ve loved since. I don’t care what’s coming for us. I love them right now, this moment.

Ten years ago I lived with a largely different group of nine cats, only Cookie and Kelly still with me from those days. Ten years from now the group will be similarly changed. But each of them from before this time and the years to come is forever a part of my life.

I knew last year at this time that Cookie and I likely wouldn’t have much more time, and here we are a year later, two weeks after she has passed. I love this photo of her and Mimi especially, and all the others of her I’ve shared and will continue to share. I took this message to heart last year and I’m glad that Cookie and I had a final year to say a long goodbye, and that I could share her with all of you.

Listen to the Poem

I have always enjoyed reading my poetry to others, and have wanted to try a little multi-media project including a slideshow of photos with narration. I am glad to create this first one for Cookie, who spent many long days and nights over 19 years staying by my side as I found my creative life.

There are no photos of Cookie or any other cats in this; though I wrote it for Moses and dedicate this project to Cookie, it is what I found I feel about love, loss, and letting go. I was led to this knowledge, of course, by my cats. Thank you kitties, as always, for showing me the way.

It’s also not timed quite right as some of the groups of images are shorter or longer than the stanza. Some of the photos I included at the end are from significant moments, for instance, the asters on Cookie’s picnic table bench from a morning Cookie and I were in the yard last October, the “Wolf Moon” in the bare tree and the sunset with the evening stars references to my mother who also passed last year at this time. Coordinating, more or less, with the second verse, the forsythia with the tiny song sparrow in the middle of it is actually from the morning of February 2 as I held Cookie on my lap and knew her process of dying had begun; it was the day of transition from winter to spring and all the birds were singing their spring songs, and a song sparrow landed very near to us and sang for a while.

I could have gotten a better microphone too, but I will stop explaining and making excuses, and I hope you enjoy it. Watch the video below or click here to see the video on YouTube, “Things I Found in the Woods”.

Also read and listen to “Pawprints and Raindrops”.

________________________

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


The Gift of a Morning

tortoiseshell cat in greens

Cookie in my garden.

I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and burdock
where I couldn’t follow.

She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods.
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.

—————————————

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


“Pawprints and Raindrops” is Featured on The Daily Tail!

pastel painting of a cat on a bed

Sunday Morning, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

My award-winning* feline-inspired poem Pawprints and Raindrops and my painting “Sunday Morning” are featured on the award-winning The Daily Tail blog! Please visit to read and enjoy, and also to read wide-ranging daily stories and images about cats, dogs, cows, birds, deer and just about anything else with fur or feathers…or scales…or…

Thank you, Daniela, for being a faithful reader of my blog too!

Catnip Chronicles

This poem was also featured in Catnip Chronicles in April 2010, so click over there to read it and then subscribe to this monthly online journal of all things cat!

2010 Award from Cat Writers’ Association

Pawprints and Raindrops won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion in the 2010 Cat Writers’ Association annual Communication Contest in the poetry category.

I also wrote an article earlier in 2010, around the time of my annual poetry reading, when I’d be reading this poem in public for the first time, and I wrote about my inspirations for poetry and art, and the inspiration for this poem in particular, and included the poem in that article, Pawprints and Raindrops.


A Sweet Award

Peaches and Peonies Detail

Peaches and Peonies Detail, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

I was honored and excited to see that “Peaches and Peonies” had won a Certificate of Excellence in the illustration category for my line of feline art cards in the Cat Writer’s Association Annual Communication Contest.

I also won another Certificate in the contest, for my poem “Pawprints and Raindrops” which was published in the April issue of Catnip Chronicles. Kelly is the subject of this poem, and they used “Sunday Morning”, a painting of Moses, as the illustration.

The Cat Writer’s Annual Communication Contest includes self-submitted works in categories from books and articles to websites and cartoons, anything published that includes feline interests as its subject. The Certificates are awarded to works achieved 90 points or above in a scale of 100 as judged by our peers. The entry receiving the highest award in each category wins a Muse Medallion, but this won’t be announced until the Cat Writer’s annual conference in November.

I have also entered Peaches’ image in one of the special award categories focused on senior cats, so we’ll see in November how it goes. I was hesitating to plan for the conference seeing Peaches’ condition as we came into the autumn, but now I can consider it.

Many thanks for your condolences

I’d like to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, sent e-cards or whatever else you’ve done to let me know you care. Every message is another step to healing, and I’m sure Peaches is off somewhere knowing she deserves the memories. Because she came to me as a senior I knew our time would be brief, but still it’s hard to believe she was only with me for five years—we packed a lifetime into those five years. As she slipped into chronic kidney failure this spring and very slowly gave into it, and especially in the past week, she and I had plenty of time to think about what life would be like without her here and I used these many late nights to convince myself to face this reality. I have the wisdom of the twelve cats who’ve crossed the Bridge before Peaches and who taught me to accept it by preparing myself because they wanted their last moments with me to be moments of joy, not pain, and they didn’t want to see me suffering any more than I would see them suffer. I actually feel Peaches’ elation at being freed of the body that was holding her back.

So for now, and for always, I will remember her in that moment of inspiration that became her portrait, pretty, petite, and simply going about her daily routine.

Future articles

I have had a number of articles in the works for September and October, but Peaches’ constantly changing condition was my priority in the past two months and I was hard pressed to even write the articles about her that I had planned. When she began to refuse food last weekend, I knew her time was imminent and was writing an article about “how you know” and how to prepare yourself. I thought we had a few more days, but with a kitty the size and age of Peaches, changes happen quickly. She was fully in charge and knew exactly what to do and where to go, and I only followed along to support her. I will finish this article with a slightly different ending than I had thought, but I will take a little more time with it.

I will also finish off the other articles I have on hand—I have three portrait commissions right now and some artwork I’ve been planning, I had word that the subject of a portrait I’d done years ago has crossed the Bridge and I’d like to tell you about her, and a friend’s cat is approaching a critical state with his heart condition. I also have information on processing your own pumpkin for your pets, and about getting out your feeders for your backyard birds as well as saving vegetable seeds to feed to them through the winter. And for Halloween, some stories of feline visits.

As I’ve traveled around to shows and festivals this year, I’ve found some truly unique handmade feline-oriented merchandise inspired by actual kitties just as my work is, and I’ll be writing up these stories and providing links on where to find the goods.

I also have lots of feline photos, including many of Peaches looking darned good in her last few days, and the Gang of Four, and sometimes their mom, complaining about the drop in temperatures.


Overheard in a Thrift Shop

discount store

Overheard in a Thrift Shop

© 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Oh, look at this yellow lab painting, it’s so nice. I’ve always liked yellow labs. I have one now.

I don’t have a dog, but I wish I could.

Well, I always said I wouldn’t get a dog unless it was a rescue,
so I probably wouldn’t get a yellow lab,
but this dog came from a neighbor’s daughter
her brother had been feeding the dog—
she had twelve puppies.

Twelve puppies?!

Yes, and they all lived.
The owner put them all outside
and he probably never fed her right.
The boys found her and started taking her food.
Their sister found out
and went and told the guy she was taking the dog and the puppies.
He didn’t care.

Well, how did you get the dog?

Well, this girl, she was only 17,
but she knew right from wrong,
and she found homes for a few puppies and took the rest to the shelter.
She got the mother spayed and things were fine,
then she was killed in a car accident.

Oh, my!

Her father took care of the dog, but then he went to jail.

Oh, no. So did you take the dog?

I offered to keep the dog until he got out;
it’s a short sentence—
he’ll be out later this year.

Bless your heart!
Are you sure he wants the dog?

He already asked about her.
Think it has to do with losing his daughter.
I mean, she was only 17, and killed in an accident.

Shame.

I’m sure the cat will miss the dog too. They’re friends.

You have a cat too?
You sure got a full house.

Yeah, the cat belonged to my daughter-in-law,
she got him for the boys,
but after a year or so, the cat started to pee on the boys’ things,
they were going into puberty, you know,
I think it was that hormonal thing.
She tried everything, but the cat wouldn’t stop.
She gave him to a neighbor, an older man
who lived by himself,
and the man kept the cat in the basement with a litterbox and food and water.
Then the man told me the cat was getting some litter on the floor.
That’s okay, I told him, just sweep it up, it’s probably clean.
Then the cat started coming upstairs,
and he told me it was pushing his golf balls around.
That’s okay, I said, that’s playful.
Then he said the cat woke him up in the morning, he touched his nose to the man’s,
and I said, just give the cat to me.

Bless your heart! You are a soft touch.

Yeah, I don’t know how it will be when the dog goes,
but he lives close, I’ll be able to see her,
and I’ll be ready to take her back at any time.
At least I’ll have my cat.

This was a conversation between two people which I overheard, secretly taking notes, as I was browsing the overcrowded racks of a local second-hand shop after dropping off some dishes for donation. The rhythm of a conversation between two people who know each other well and working in tandem, in this case the cashier and a volunteer who were unpacking and tagging things, has a rhythm of its own built on the familiarity of the two people, and can often sound like poetry, so instead of my initial idea for a short story based on their conversation, I wrote it up as verse.

Honest, open, unguarded conversation between two people is so precious.

cat rug

The cat rug (folded).

I was determined not to purchase anything when I dropped off my donations, but right inside the door was this feline-themed rug…and I was hooked. These are nice to have around the house, and often I use them in my displays at shows or festivals, indoors or out, especially if I’m on concrete. They also come in handy as donation items to benefit shelters and animal organizations. Since this one looks completely new, that may be its fate, my way of thanking the universe for giving me this poem.


The Dogs of War, Specifically One Named Sallie

I am fascinated at how dogs have served us in both armed conflicts and in keeping the peace, in finding the living and dead after a disaster and in serving those who are physically or emotionally challenged.

Right now, highly trained canines are sniffing out IEDs and other explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, sniffing the streets and buildings in Tennessee after the tragic flooding that surprisingly took so many lives, and in the past few months have done their duty after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

In between their times of service, they are just dogs again, our friendly, happy, tail-waving playful canine friends, again doing service to bring a respite to those who serve in battle and in disaster.

I participated in a poetry reading on April 29 entitled “Civil War Voices in Poetry, Story and Song” which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Poetry Society. Poet Shirley S. Stevens read two poems about “Civil War Heroines”, and I was ready to hear about women who had selflessly provided medical services or who had actually dressed as men and fought on the front lines.

I was surprised and moved, however, when the first poem, entitled “Sallie”, was not about a human.

Sallie

A pug nosed, brindle bull terrier,
barely five weeks old,
Sallie, named for a West Chester beauty,
grew to recognize the drum roll for reveille.
First out of quarters to attend roll call,
she stationed herself alongside
regimental colors.
Serving at Antietam, Fredericksburg,
and Chancellorsville, she bared her teeth
at Johnny Rebs, led the Union charge at Oak Ridge,
stood guard over dead and wounded infantry.
Even Abe doffed his stovepipe hat to this lady
on dress parade with her men.
Struck by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run,
she was buried on the battle field.
Sallie stand in bronze at Gettysburg,
devoted to the men of the 11th Pennsylvania.

“Sallie” © Shirley S. Stevens

I had no idea. I was moved by all of the poetry read that night, but so moved by this poem that I asked Shirley if I could share it with readers of The Creative Cat.

Shirley herself is a “cat person”, stating that “every poet needs a cat”, and I won’t divulge her e-mail address but I will say that her address contains both “poet” and “cat”.

I didn’t find any internet pages about Sallie, but I did find a book written about Sallie which you could check out of your local public library, Sallie Civil War Dog: War Dog of the Rebellion, by Helene Smith. In addition, I found a pretty comprehensive reading list about dogs who have served in war from the Alabama War Dogs Foundation.

I have also written a post entitled “Heartwarming Tales of Dogs” with lots of links where you can read modern stories about service dogs, and my article “Helping Haiti, People and Animals” also includes links to search and rescue dogs and more stories.