5:30 AM

Sunrise is not for another forty-five minutes, but the sky lightens. First day back to school for my daughters. If they are sleeping, it has been fitful, full of running dreams.

On our street, cars pass on their way to an early train. No lights on in the neighbors’ houses yet. Even the mean woman next door sleeps peacefully, resting up to take on the day’s conflicts.

The new goats across the street still dream of whatever keeps them from crying out once the sun has risen. Too early for chipmunks, but this doesn’t derail Bella’s thrill when we pass the stone walls.

Lights on in a house with horses outside it. Horses nickering towards the yellow windows. The cat has yet to come out into the driveway, though, the gray and white one that glares at Bella when we are not out so early as this.

In a house with chickens outside, another light. The coyote who’s been stopping by must see it, though it won’t deter him. The chickens reshuffling feathers over their nests, the broody one determined: today is the day I will not be forced out into the light.

Janet isn’t up yet. She will be by the time my girls get to the busstop. She’ll let us know if we’ve missed it. Sleep on, Janet. The school year has just begun.

The brook runs.

In the hayfields that didn’t get a third cutting, no finches fly up. No geese paddle at the edges as they did one day this week. Nor any adult turkey keeping watch over several young ones making their way through the tall grass.

On the corner, a house with young children. Upstairs, someone is awake, though the shades aren’t drawn; downstairs, no doubt, someone else tries to brew a quiet pot of coffee, to claim a few minutes of quiet before the day begins.

No one has taken up the free stuff by the apartment house: crockpot, travel mugs, file cabinet. They have made it through another night. Not the skunk carcass, though. The scavengers have finally finished their work there (and we’re grateful for it).

We pass another border collie, one more interested in making friends than Bella is. Her owner is still shirtless from a hot night. Maybe he didn’t expect to see us here.

Bella pauses at Anne’s house, waiting, but no Anne today. She’s no doubt awake, dreading the commute into town, waiting for the coffee machine’s timer to click on, holding the dog off a few moments longer.

The big house has been quiet ever since the woman died. No more walks, arm in arm, with her husband in his overalls, her hair in a bonnet. No reason to rise early, especially if the night has been difficult.

A light in the kitchen of the big dog’s small house, but the yard he guards so loyally is empty.In a yard full of flea market items, a security light burns. Nothing appears stolen, but who can tell?

My mechanic has not yet opened shop.

One house has no shades, so the first floor is illuminated. Television on. Open cabinets. A shelf of bowls.

No scent of baking donuts arises from the shop on the corner, its for sale sign hanging in a dark window. At the white house on Main Street, a bulb burns over a back porch, a two person bench, as if to say: sit here for a bit; I’ll be with you as soon as I can throw something on.

The elementary school looks open, though its parking lot is empty except for the custodian’s car. The nursery school stays shuttered, silent, as does the big house that is never quite finished, the acupuncturist’s house, its stone cairn emerging in the dawn.

Someone burns an electric candle on a second floor above a front door, its glow partially obscured by a sheer curtain: here’s the way home.

The new puppy’s house is quiet. Good for them. Quiet, the family who just dropped their son off at college.

At Stephanie’s another woman stands at her counter. It’s been a long time, now, since Stephanie died, and we’re happy for her husband, but to many of us, that will always be her front porch, her kitchen, her windows.

Bella and I loop back onto our own street where someone has woken up in the ranch house, the window hidden by an overgrown shrub.

In the house with a newborn in it, the father drags the trash to the curb. He’s still wearing his pajamas.

Finally, a chipmunk, so sleepy it sits still atop the stones, but Bella misses it. It’s hot already and she doesn’t have to rely on hunting to stay alive (a good thing).

In our own house, lights blaze. Inside, I know, water runs, phones buzz, bare feet pad from closet to mirror. Someone is looking for flip flops; someone else is cursing her hair. No one thinks they’ll have time for breakfast. Everyone wonders if they have whatever it is they need to get through the day. Enzo, the gray cat, watches from doorways. Minx, the white cat, has already gone back to sleep after breakfast.

Bella won’t yet come in for a drink of water and I don’t blame her. Hold onto the morning for me, my pet. Hold fast to what we’ve witnessed: the slowly waking world.

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Home, With Cats

Minx (L); Enzo (R)

Minx (L); Enzo (R)

Why does that image fill me with such joy? It didn’t used to be like this. Or did it?

Outside, voices around the firepit. Downstairs, Dennis’s fork clinking against his salad bowl. Upstairs, me without an idea for my blog and Minx giving himself a bath beside me. He never looks at a loss for what to do with himself. He isn’t worried, for example, that he has a sexy female name, or that he only has a tooth or two left in his head. Or that, considering the square footage of his ample body, his tongue is a small enough weapon against filth. So I’m a cat lover. So what? This is the new (?) me. A living cliche`. Poet. Cat Lover. Tea Drinker.

When I was a kid, we had cats the way some people have an ant problem. Cats proliferated, an army of gold fur against any rodents stupid enough to hang around the grain bins. They stayed outside, gathering on the back steps for leftovers, slinking through the fields and woods, dashing out of the hayloft when we approached. They were feral things, wild-eyed, hissing.

But their kittens, if you could find them, were tame as lambs. We dressed up Tammy, our first calico, in my doll clothes. Litters in the barn attic kept me entertained for hours when all of my adolescent friends were playing CYO basketball or blow-drying their hair into feathers. What could be better than those little triangular kitten faces? They way they walked, plucking leg after leg up off the dusty barn floor?

I guess I’ve always had it in me.

On my kindergarten report card, Mrs. Carpenter wrote that I demonstrated an affinity for poetry. I don’t remember poetry in kindergarten. I remember oak tag (and how it was severely rationed which made it all the more precious to me; god, I loved that stuff). I remember recess in a leafy, well-shaded, wall-offed yard. I remember feeling lucky that I didn’t have Mrs. Friend next door whose voice I could hear through the coat rack. I remember Chris K. chasing me around the room on his scooter and having to dash behind the ironing board in the play kitchen. I remember a see-saw. But I don’t remember poetry.

Anyway, maybe certain loves are with us always, just waiting for a day when our kid begs us to take her to the cat shelter and we agree, thinking it’s cheaper than the movies.

This is how much I love cats: I got up this morning and found Minx mewling on the porch roof outside the bedroom window. The screen door was opened on the porch, Minx’s trademark six inches (How he gets it open when we can’t and use the other door, instead, is more testament to his brilliance) and Enzo, too, was gone.

The first thing I found to put on was not a bra, but a plain white t-shirt. And it’s raining so it became some kind of weird spring break flashback (not that I ever partook; never received an invite to that one), but the point is: I didn’t care. The movie in my mind spooled forward, starring my doomed hero and the fisher cat and coyote villains. Without Enzo, who would keep me company leaping about in the sheets as I folded them? Who would perch on the bathroom sink to make sure I flossed? Who would climb into every closet, cupboard, drawer, I opened?

I wish I could love an apex predator, I thought as my neighbor paused in his driveway and then hurried into his house. Wouldn’t life be so much less risky? But, instead, I love cats.

A few years ago, I interviewed for a job as head of the English department. Although I had more teaching experience, a much younger colleague was chosen. When the principal explained his choice, he said it was very close between us, but the deciding factor was that he believed my colleague would be able to generate more data than I would.

I’ll give him data: Every year in my poetry class, I conduct a very scientific hand-raising survey. Who here owns a cat? Most kids raise their hands. Coincidence or cliche`? What’s the goddamned difference?

Anyway, these days I channel my inner cat. Choose whoever you choose, I chant. I will maintain my superior indifference.

So here I am. While other people are out there leading the world with facts and figures, I sit typing away, steeped in gratitude that, just when I was about to a) cry, and b) get arrested for indecent exposure, Enzo padded out of the barn, lynx-like, dismissive, keeping close to the foundation. Getting soaked, after all, is so disgustingly homo sapien.