In memory of my cat Fay, 1984-2001
While scooting about with the hoover gadget
a tiny whiteness attracts my eye.
I stoop to lift a single whisker
stuck at the foot of the skirting board
beneath the window, in the lounge.
My little cat. Dead two years
after living for sixteen years.
All this time, avoiding the housework.
Hiding at the carpet edge
among the crumbs, the skin and fluff,
occasional crispies and shrivelled peas.
Remainders that we never see.
Reminders we are less than perfect,
less than the sum of what we believe.
A finely tapering thread of thin,
slightly, between my finger and thumb.
It brings it back. The things we let slip
as life cleans up. Baffling love
for something with a raisin-sized brain.
Instinct signals. Redundant words.
A bell round her neck to warn the birds.
It’ll go in the box that held her ash,
along with her name tag, shred of claw,
silverfoil-ball she was born to chase.
Essential, sentimental guff.
Resistance against the unforgiving
sweeping away of everything
that’s ever been, will never be.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2006. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2006 was Janice Galloway.
I've admired Fulton's work since the early nineties, the tenderness beneath the adrenal-rush of words. Here, the balance is inverted. Anyone who tries to write about animals, the special place they hold for us and in general, knows how difficult it is to get right. This is it got right.
The idea for 'Remainders' came pretty much as described in the poem. I was hoovering and found a whisker from my cat who had been dead for two years. I was surprised and happy and sad at the same time and, as often happens, a flash went off in my head and I knew there was the germ of a poem there. It seemed to be important, it seemed to say something about what's really crucial, big and small, the condition of life and death. Off I went and it was soon written, followed by some fine tuning.
I don't like poems with big messages. I always begin with a mood or an atmosphere I want to convey. Only afterwards will I step back and see where the poem has lead me. I don't like things to be neat or tidy, I don't trust contrived answers. I never know how the poem will evolve until it's well underway. sometimes a more formal layout seems right, and sometimes a more fluid layout brings a poem alive. For 'Remainders' a more formal layout was the one. I write free verse, but I like to use occasional rhymes, or echoes, throughout my poems. i.e. fluff and guff. These help to bind it all together in my mind. Phrases like 'tiny whiteness' and 'thread of thin' hopefully express the idea of the fragility of the whisker, of being alive.
There are some definite themes that emerged: flimsiness of existence, how we can take some things for granted and let our lives and the things that really matter slip away, the inevitability of how it all ends up for everyone and everything, about thinking too much when what's necessary is to get on with it and love what has to be loved, even if it's simply a little animal. No questions are needed, and no answers. I use the word 'baffling' to express how weird and wonderful the relationship between a human and a 'dumb' animal can be. I use the recurring cleaning theme to show how there's nothing we can do about anything; it's all going to go. All we can do is hang on to the emotional and physical bits that are left behind to try and keep a shape and meaning to life. I suppose if the poem is about one thing then it's about the loss of innocence. I'm mourning the loss of innocence. The remainders I collect are symbols of that innocence.
'Remainders' is from an unpublished collection called Stone Circle which is about the society we've created and the struggle of the individual to survive and remain uncynical and positive. I'm fond of the poems in my earlier books, but my newer poems show how much my style and rhythm and imagery has matured and evolved. I thought 'Remainders' was quite a minor affair, and it was almost ditched!