My amazing cat, Peer Gynt, died last week. I called him my boyfriend because he was the first being who came here and stayed, and only after much upset and dissatisfaction on both sides. He was big and orange and stripy, like a mini-tiger, and fat, and lazy, and lazier and fatter every year. He complained loudly when he wanted attention, or when breakfast wasn’t served promptly enough. Sometimes he even pawed at my bedroom door. He convinced people in the neighborhood that he needed food with his piteous meowing. They call me up and say, “I found your cat. He seems really hungry…” even though he was a bruiser and had plenty to eat at home and, to boot, wore a tag that said “In-outdoor cat. Do not feed.”
He was an alley cat, the mayor of the neighborhood, everybody’s cat, really. My neighbor, Lisa, called him “Pussy L’Orange” and loved him, I thought, much better than I did. She let him sit on her lap and get his cat hair all over her clothing. My dear friend Tim, who lives down the alley, held Peer for hours and hours a day, letting him sleep on his chest. He was a protector, a guardian, a friend. I called him the sleep guru because it he lulled everyone he curled up against into dreamland. And now he is sleeping in my back yard. He was not afraid of dogs. When we brought a 5 month-old Siberian Husky, a reputed cat-killer, into his home, he calmly stared her down and made it clear that he was in charge. He held his ground when we brought in another, goofy, Husky Puppy, who grew to be 70 pounds. Peer kept them both in line. Some people called him a dog-cat, or cat-dog, because he often behaved more like a dog than a cat.
My friend Tim helped me lower him into the grave, wrapped in a lovely old cotton blanket my parents brought back from Wyoming. It seemed fitting, as Peer was a Western Cat, a fighter, a lover.
The funeral was lovely. Some of the kids from the neighborhood, who knew and loved him, came over. Each of us said what we loved about him and then cast a flower into his grave. Then I read from Christopher Smart‘s Jubilate Agno, which one of the kids actually knew about. Smart wrote what must be the greatest poem on a cat while confined for lunacy in Bedlam Asylum between 1759 and 1763.
1 For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
2 For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
19 For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
20 For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
21 For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
22 For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
23 For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
24 For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
25 For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
26 For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
27 For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
I loved my cat, Peer Gynt.
I send him to his grave with lines from Ibsen. This is the lullaby that Solveig, who has loved him forever, sings to him at the end of the play:
Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!
I will cradle thee, I will watch thee —
The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap.
They two have been playing all the life-day long.
The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast
all the life-day long. God’s blessing on my joy!
The boy has been lying close in to my heart
all the life-day long. He is weary now.
Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!
I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.