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Finding a Cat for Carl Sandburg
by Lyn Lifshin

It only seemed right, after that line
about fog coming in on little cat feet,
to get Carl a cat, let him know it would
be a real presence. Anyone with a cat knows
even on a rug they are hardly soundless,
a pat, pat and scratching, an early stretch
has its own music. Carl needed a cat
nothing like fog. I thought he might like
an Abyssinian that could ride on the shoulder
of a hobo poet if he decided to travel west
again. My Aby loves to shoulder perch
go for a hike in the wind and the woods.
Any cat would be good for a reporter and
love to hear Sandburg's typewriter clink
under a warm light with the rustle of paper
and a reliable lap

At first, Carl insisted he was not a cat person,
and said he would take my word that fog
didn't move like a cat. I realized he would never
want a cat with a pedigree, being so concerned
about the homeless and under-privileged.
I figured he'd have trouble resisting a ragged
homeless kitten. But it wasn't that simple.

Carl was fascinated by jazz and honky tonk
so I took him to this place in Cleveland. It was
down and out and he loved it. Drum crashes
and horn razzes. Later, he wrote how "the trombone
pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts." I knew
he had a thing for animals even if he didn't always
get it right. I like his poem where "the banjo tickles
and titters too awful" and "the cartoonists weep
in their beer" and "ship riveters talk with their feet
to the feet of floozies under the tables." We left
in a good mood. I remembered that we weren't
that far from the SPCA, and as soon as we walked in,
Carl spotted a friend from the Social Democratic Party.
That pretty much sealed the deal. It didn't hurt that
the sweetest black kitten you could imagine was
named Abey. Carl was in love with Lincoln,
thinking of doing his biography. Abey
came right over to him, and it was love
at first nibble. By the time the moon
came out, that kitten was on his desk,
purring to the keys clatter tapping. Carl wrote me
that Abey like watching him play banjo and
how his fingers flew all over like cicadas and bees.
He didn't revise "fog" but after moving with
his black cat to Chicago, I never read another
poem of his with cats' feet as fog


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