Sunday Poem

Ode to the Cat

The animals
were imperfect,
long-tailed, dismal
in the head.
Little by little
they composed themselves,
becoming a landscape,
gaining spots, grace, flight.
The cat,
only the cat,
appeared complete
and proud:
born completely
it walks alone and knows what it wants.

Man wants to be a fish and a bird,
the snake would rather have wings,
the dog is a lost lion,
the engineer wants to be a poet,
the fly studies the swallow,
the poet tries to imitate the fly,
but the cat
wants only to be cat,
and every cat is cat
from whiskers to tail,
from hunches to live rat,
from night to its yellow eyes.

There’s no entity
like it,
neither moon nor flower
has its construction:
it’s a solitary thing
like the sun or a topaz,
and the supple line
of its contour,
firm and delicate, is like
the prow line of a ship.
Its yellow eyes
leave a single
through which the coins of night drop.

O little
emperor without globe,
conqueror without country,
tiny tiger of the living room, sultan
groom of a sky
of erotic tiles,
the wind of love
in the open air
you demand
when you pass
and pose, placing
four delicate feet
on the floor,
every earthly thing,
since everything
is filthy
for the cat’s immaculate feet.

O independent beast of the home,
arrogant remnant of night,
lazy, gymnastic
and alien,
most profound cat,
secret police
of dwellings,
of a lost velvet,
there’s probably no
to your manner,
perhaps you’re not mysterious,
the entire world knows you and you belong
to the least mysterious inhabitant,
perhaps everyone believes he’s the master,
owner, uncle
of the cat, companion,
disciple or friend
of the cat.

I no.
I don’t buy it.
I don’t know the cat.
I know everything, life and its archipelago,
the sea and the unfathomable city,
the harem and its excess,
virtues and flaws of mathematics,
the world’s volcanic veins,
the unreal carapace of crocodiles,
the hidden goodness of firemen,
the blue atavism of priests,
but I cannot figure out the cat.
My reasoning slips before its indifference,
its eyes with their golden numbers

Pablo Neruda
from The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry
Vintage Books, 1996