A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of a cyclamen flower and pondered why I always forget the name. Today’s flower also begins with “c”, but for some reason I find it far easier to remember the word clematis.
Considering this for a few moments raises the question of how, given the range of shapes, sizes and colours the name can be applied to, I know the flower in the photo is a clematis.
The human brain is remarkable. How does a child recognise Disney’s Pluto and Goofy, Hanna Barbera’s Scooby Doo, Charles Schulz’s Snoopy, and all the other two-dimensional cartoon canines, and map them onto the real-life set of dogs?
Come to that, how do we manage to put a chihuahua, a St Bernard and a greyhound into the same general set? When you come across a dog you’ve never seen before, you still know it’s a dog, even if you don’t know what breed it is – just as I am sure that the flower in the photo I took this week is some kind of clematis.
Human memory is remarkable, too, as is the way it files words and processes language. I conjure up the word clematis and then start to make associations: clematis, clement weather, clemency, clementine…
I’ve never known anyone called Clement (though nearly forty years ago I did get a Valentine’s card signed with the name – and never discovered who had sent it) but my poetry files contain two pieces dedicated to a cat called Clementine.
Sixteen things to do
when your cat dies:
you’ll never have another animal –
after her sister’s dead, of course.
Get out the photos and remember
how tiny she was, and how bleary-eyed,
the first time you saw her
curled in the pet shop cage.
for wishing it had been
her sister – she’s the one who cries
all night and peed on your new boots.
Think how light she was
and how blurred her eyes
when you left her at the vet’s.
for not realising sooner just how ill
she was. Remember the threadbare velvet
of her forelegs where they shaved her
for the drip. Eat chocolate. Cry. Buy flowers
for the corner of your desk
where she used to sit.
Catch yourself thinking
it’s just as well her sister’s still alive
to eat up all those tins. Stop and call
to every alleycat and stray you see. Carry
kibble in your pocket and try
to feed them all.
Console yourself –
ten years isn’t bad: the street cats probably
don’t live ten months. Share
your toast and marmite with her sister.
Walk past the pet shop after work each evening.
Of course poetry isn’t always set in real time, nor does it have to stick to “what really happened.” That piece was written many years ago, some years, in fact, before the cat in question used up all her lives.
This next piece is more recent, although the (lack of) action clearly takes place at an earlier time.
The adipose tabby
is happy to doze
on a mat in the sun
with her paws to her nose
and her tail curled round neatly,
its tip in her ear,
asleep in the sunshine,
with nothing to fear.