Penelope Moffet’s Cauldron of Hisses from Arroyo Seco Press seems to me the perfect poetry chapbook to have come out of the pandemic and its lockdown. It is a unified collection of poems, linked by their opening and closing lines, about different kinds of cats. It is more than this though. Underlying every poem, it is about our need for connection and how we regained it through our connection with nonhuman friends, and perhaps more importantly how we used our dreamworld to get through that time.
The second poem of the collection ‘Leopards’ helps us to see the familial connection we have with the animals that populate our lives.
Breathe another’s breath?
Only Emily’s. She plants
herself in front of me, inserts
her face into my thoughts.
She is my family,
Emily the golden leopard
and her brother,
Snowshoe Raku. (2)
It was easy for many of us before the pandemic to take for granted the connections we had to other beings in our worlds. Moffet clearly does not do that, and she shows us how important those connections are. She also shows us the importance of wildness because inside her cats is the same wildness that lives in the great cats of the wild.
What follows are the dreams and memories that she has of cats, and with it the implication of how important those dreams and memories are. We have entered a new state, a new world, where we have been cut off from human connection. It is our job now to find a way to survive these new conditions in a way that preserves our sanity. Moffet’s dreams of the wild given physical reality in her cats do just that. In one of her ‘Mountain Lion’ poems, she writes:
So much depends on posturing
in cats and humans. The way
my own two felines sometimes
walk stiff-legged, glaring,
showing teeth. The way
I sometimes turn myself
into a cauldron
full of hisses. (7)
So she understands herself a little better, and her animal reactions by understanding these animals. She dreams of them, meditates on them, understands them. Through them she, and we, can see what people are.
This is, to some degree, a lonely collection, but it is not alienated. Instead, Moffet gives us a way to understand the loneliness of the new world without being consumed by it. This is a dreamy collection, and it is beautiful. It is about what the human mind can do to preserve us when allowed to bound through the jungles and savannah instead of simply dwelling on loneliness and pain.
John Brantingham 18th January 2023
Thanks for sharing 💕