Originally published in Willow Springs 69
From the author
Notes on “He Was A Hell of a Cat”
Last spring my dad was dying of lung cancer. Every morning I wrote a poem as a way to cope or at the least try to come to terms with what was happening to him and our family as we prepared to lose him. My husband and I had this spectacular, insane cat when we were first married, a partly feral creature my dad referred to as “a hell of a cat,” or more accurately as a “helluva cat.” As I wrote the poem, I could hear my dad’s voice, his open, passionate awe at the good things in life—a big fish, a crazy cat, a good song. In the course of treating his cancer, a surgeon had to remove part of his vocal cords, and while I was grateful the procedure prolonged my father’s life it was devastating to realize his voice as I knew it was gone. He loved sandhill cranes, which flock in numbers to the fields behind my folks’ place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My reference to the wildness in their throats is my kiss to my dad. My husband, Scot, and I have been married twenty years, and during that time we’ve gained a mutual respect for the different ways we’ve mustered courage to face what shakes our world. We did have to put that cat down when he began to suffer. That last stanza is my shaped memory of how we managed it together. My father had no such simple, fast relief when his time came, but the hands of his people were on him as he passed.
When I write poems, I go to a different place than when I write fiction or nonfiction. Poetry is as close to prayer as I can manage. I know it’s a good poem when I feel myself lifted out of my chair as I write. I need to be up in the air meeting the image or voice chest to chest, so to speak. My pen races to hold me up there. I guess I want to believe at those moments there is a spirit that gathers us up, but beyond the power of the words and the voice rushing through in my head I can’t be certain.
Notes on Reading
I was an English major, so my reading was accelerated and shaped in idiosyncratic ways by professors who had their own preferences. For instance, I read all of Milton’s Paradise Lost when I was twenty years old, and that did some strange things to my head. In general, though, I have a ping pong approach to reading. If someone tells me a book is good or does something interesting or important, I’ll try it. My students are in particular fans of science fiction and fantasy, and they will talk my ears off on why I should read a book or a series of books they love. What’s become crucial to me are books that are taking risks, either in how far the language is being pushed or in what the writer is revealing about herself or himself. While writers are solitary in their writing, they often seem to speak to each other through their art. Through a coded language of encouragement and honesty, we tell each other to go the distance, to push on through. I’m increasingly drawn to writers who demonstrate true compassion not only in what they write but the way in which they create community and possibilities for other writers.
Here are a few books I’ve read or reread in the last year that have influenced me as a writer: Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Dorianne Laux’ Facts About the Moon, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, Ann Hood’s Comfort, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Gehta Mehta’s A River Sutra.
About Kathlene Postma
Kathlene Postma is currently finishing a novel set in both China and the US. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Hawaii Review, Los Angeles Review, Passages North, Natural Bridge, Rattle, Event, Green Mountains Review, Red Rock Review, and other magazines. She currently edits Silk Road Review and directs the Creative Writing program at Pacific University in Oregon.