Author's Note: During the summer months I often visit my wife’s family in Boulder, and one summer while dallying around the stacks in the Boulder Library, I found a copy of Lucien Clergue’s (1934-2014,) Eros and Thanatos; one of his collections of (b & w) photographs, and found the image for the following poem. Later, (in correspondence,) Snodgrass had noted the poem and the use of cat—and other animal—bones in poems, including his own “On High,” (APR, 32:3, 2003,) which I would suggest to anyone interested in animal imagery in poetry.
The cat in Lucien Clergue’s Eros and Thanatos Lying on the beach at Sainte Marie-de-la-Mer Is only a half-decomposed corpse filled with sand. The body resembles a piece of macabre iconography, A stone transi with some fur still left along the spine, Down the striped tail curled like a long finger As though to summon another image, here, it is The photographer, Lucien, to make posthumous Meaning, a look, a life story— She must have wandered out during low tide Pawing for shellfish on the sand bar and there Dallied too long, or in the lulling monotony Of the salty air, napped, and dreamt of crustacean Fantasies prancing past in improbable shapes And floral colors. Her jaw, open and fixed Suggests she woke too late and cried to breathe A final request, ignored, the oral cavity Holds the amber froth like a cup of champagne, An offering for the anger of the sea, the sudden Tide, a coastal storm, an outburst, and the body Molded into the sand as though to deny Destruction, the rigid image of the thing, A white eye, a necklace of foam, another Form that requires dissolution and absence, The water becomes gentle as the hands of Antigone In this moral dream of nature – itself dreaming The personification of the scene by the shore— So far as wind and water and sand agree To focus in the production of being’s text, The burden of animation and the void For an onlooker to accept these views, anger Alone, or benevolence to cancel the original image, Then all complaints are unjust and retracted— The cat in Lucien Clergue’s Eros and Thanatos Lying on the beach at Sainte Marie-de-la-Mer Is only a half-decomposed corpse filled with sand.
©2021 Michael Gessner
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