Home Is Where the Heart Is
I know a little language of my cat, though Dante says
that animals have no need of speech and Nature
abhors the superfluous. My cat is fluent. He
converses when he wants with me. To speak
is natural. And whales and wolves I’ve heard
in choral soundings of the sea and air
know harmony and have an eloquence that stirs
my mind and heart—they touch the soul. Here
Dante’s religion that would set Man apart
damns the effluence of our life from us
to build therein its powerhouse.
It’s in his animal communication Man is
true, immediate, and
in immediacy, Man is all animal.
His senses quicken in the thick of the symphony,
old circuits of animal rapture and alarm,
attentions and arousals in which an identity rearrives.
particular voices among
the concert, the slightest
rustle in the undertones,
rehearsing a nervous aptitude
yet to prove his. He sees the flick
of significant red within the rushing mass
of ruddy wilderness and catches the glow
of a green shirt
to delite him in a glowing field of green
—it speaks to him—
and in the arc of the spectrum color
speaks to color.
The rainbow articulates
a promise he remembers
he but imitates
in noises that he makes,
this speech in every sense
the world surrounding him.
He picks up on the fugitive tang of mace
amidst the savory mass,
and taste in evolution is an everlasting key.
There is a pun of scents in what makes sense.
Myrrh it may have been,
the odor of the announcement that filld the house.
He wakes from deepest sleep
upon a distant signal and waits
as if crouching, springs
Robert Duncan, “A Little Language” from
Ground Work: Before the War.
Only the dog knows why the moon
Floats down the night; his raucous tune
Is urgent with the thing he fears
But falls on unbelieving ears.
If we had only learned to speak
The tongue of dogs instead of Greek
We should be better schooled to fight
The spells and portents of the night.
Now at the coming of the dark,
Young fools adrift in street and park
Yield to an epidemic swoon,
Abuse the dog and praise the moon.
Rain will fall again
on your smooth pavement,
a light rain like
a breath or a step.
The breeze and the dawn
will flourish again
when you return,
as if beneath your step.
Between flowers and sills
the cats will know.
There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You will smile alone.
The cats will know.
You will hear words
old and spent and useless
like costumes left over
from yesterday’s parties.
You too will make gestures.
You’ll answer with words—
face of springtime,
you too will make gestures.
The cats will know,
face of springtime;
and the light rain
and the hyacinth dawn
that wrench the heart of him
who hopes no more for you—
they are the sad smile
you smile by yourself.
There will be other days,
other voices and renewals.
Face of springtime,
we will suffer at daybreak.
Cesare Pavese, "The Cats Will Know" from
Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950.