By Aaron Fischer
Patricia Carragon has done something notable, writing and assembling some 30 pages of haiku about cats (hence, meowku) that are neither cute nor cloying. What they are is smart, funny, and satisfyingly complex — quite an accomplishment in seventeen syllables.
Consider these two meowku that occur early in the book:
In lieu of an annual salary, the railway provided Tama with a year’s worth of cat food and a gold nametag.
A few minutes with Wikipedia reveals another layer of meaning: Tama is often cited as part of a phenomenon known in Japan as nekonomics (literally, “cat economy”), which describes the positive economic impact of having a cat mascot.
We’ve got Tama, Kishigawa, and at least one calico. But what about the goddess?
The answer comes in the next meowku and involves another calico.
According to Wikipedia, maneki-neko (literally, “beckoning cat”) is a common Japanese figurine (typically calico) that’s supposed to bring good luck to its owner. This may sound esoteric, but you’re almost undoubtedly familiar with these beckoning cats if you’ve ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant or shopped in a Japanese market. They’re the cat figurines sitting on their haunches and beckoning with one raised paw. Some maneki-neko are actually battery powered and wave their paw, though it’s not clear if this attracts more luck.
Of course, in our multicultural society, it makes perfect sense that this beckoning cat spreads good fortune in a feline version of Yiddish.
Just to close the loop, by juxtaposing these two meowku on the same page, Carragon allows them to resonate: two calicos celebrating good fortune in three (maybe two-and-half) languages: English, Japanese, and near-Yiddish.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the photographs that accompany these meowku. They have the feeling of snapshots, which seems just right for the feel of this book. Also, we’re spared cuddly closeups. Many of these shots are taken outdoors and feature cats on the sidewalks or brick stairs or checking out the action on the street.
The photographs are particularly apt, since these are decidedly urban cats.
At the risk of making a pun not worthy of this work: I think these meowku are for everyone — regardless of their feelings about felines. They’re sharply observed and reflect city life. And as I hope I’ve demonstrated, at times they’re both complex and rewarding.
You can find the book here: http://www.poetswearprada.com/
Aaron Fischer is an award-winning poet. His chapbook Black Stars of Blood: The Weegee Poems (Main Street Rag Press) was published this past summer.