Poetry Readings and Kitty Cat Heaven

ridiculously good chocolate cake

ridiculously good chocolate cake (Photo credit: thepinkpeppercorn)

This morning I had the pleasure of reading some of my poems at the Joseph Priestley Memorial Chapel in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. The first Sunday of each month the local Unitarian Universalist church holds a service of music and the spoken word, and I was honored to be asked to participate, as well as to read a response poem for the morning sermon afterward.

I’ve only been able to attend one of the services there before, when they honored William Stafford, and I was too ill that morning to stay and chat.  The poems were well received, as they are a generous, kind and friendly group. I was impressed by another local voice who graced us with readings from our new U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway, and I found myself enchanted by the guest musician’s skill with the Appalachian Dulcimer.

Though I had a couple of days to write the response poem (thank you, Ann for asking me!), most of it came together on paper, well on screen, last night. The title may be a bit cliche,  but I was happy with how it came together. I’m generally not great at writing on a topic with a deadline, so for me, it was a growth experience, and I’m proud at least that I stretched a bit beyond my comfort zone, and found myself happy with the results. I admit that the picture I had in mind was not of a rope bridge, but Micah and I decided that we just loved the sound of  “rickety rope bridge,” so it stays. Hey, I’m a poet, you shouldn’t be looking to me for historical accuracy.

Heaven on Earth

“I love you. I love everything.
Except heaven. I hate heaven.”
     -Chris, Age 4

Why would a child hate heaven?
I wonder. Wouldn’t it be cool
to talk to angels face to face,
to hold the hand of those who
stood guard over us while we
crossed that rickety rope bridge,

who watched over us while we slept,
who flashed their lightning swords
right in the face of those under-bed
monsters? What could be better
than to dangle your toes off the edge

of a cloud, play a golden harp or flute,
music like no one on earth
has ever heard. What could be
better than to sing forever,
halleluiah, and hosanna to the King?

I was ten years old when Tiger died,
my first real loss. “Are you alright?”
my father asked, from the bottom
of the stairs. He must have heard
me crying. “I’m okay.” He could have

brushed it away. He could have
said that Tiger went to Kitty
Heaven, and I would see him again.
some day. But what he did say
did more for me than any story
of litter boxes made of gold,

or the cat lying down with the mouse.
“We all miss him, David. We’re all sad.
Come down for dinner. Your mother
baked a chocolate cake.” I don’t know
what I thought of heaven when I was four.

Had I lost someone then, I think
I would have hated it too. Of this, at least
I am sure, make no mistake, I’d have been
deeply worried, streets of gold and angelic choirs
aside, that in Heaven I might never taste again,
anything as truly good as mother’s chocolate cake.

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25 thoughts on “Poetry Readings and Kitty Cat Heaven

    • Jody, that means so much. I enjoyed the whole morning, and wish I could have stayed for the yard sale work. What an honor to read in the services! Thank you.

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  1. What a good start for my day-reading your poem and saying ‘yes!’ to the addition of the word rickety. Now I’m wishing I had chocolate cake….

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    • Thank you. I realize that what I do with rhyme (within and between lines more than at the end), and rhythm is not as easy to follow, but it has a flow of it’s own, and I always have a good reason why a line ends where it does. I appreciate your compliments.

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  2. Pingback: Poems , stories and the cats tail | 20 LINES A DAY – an exercise in discipline

  3. This is absolutely amazing. Very thought provoking, and heart string tugging (my favorite kind!). And now you’ve got me thinking of heaven on earth, right here, right now, with loved ones who make us a chocolate cake when we’re heartbroken. Thank you, for these words that wonderful send me.

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    • Aw, Gina, you are very kind. I am pleased that you enjoyed it. Thank you so much. Yup, you got what I was about. I am not an atheist, but I have so much in common with them, namely that I think every moment of life is precious. And if we all lived as though this was our only shot, I’m damned sure we’d make this world a better place, or at least be better to each other. Oddly, most Evangelicals I have met act in such a way that an observer would think that life is only precious in the womb, after that well, life is a mix of joy and misery, and if something goes wrong, it must be God’s plan, and anyway, Jesus will make it all right some day by giving us mansions in heaven (paraphrase of a Carl Sanburg poem there).

      I’m for humans taking responsibility, not blaming it on the devil. I once heard a pastor say how wise and sweet it was for his little son to say, “Dad, if there is no devil, then who is doing all his dirty work?” I wanted to stand up in church and say, “WE ARE, DAMNIT!” But since I was the youth pastor at the time, I didn’t think that would go over well. But since those days, I have come to believe that really we don’t need a devil, we humans cab do just fine destroying this earth without his help. Ah well. I digress.

      I have a difficult time with church stuff. It’s a long story, but the Unitarians to me are among some of the most peaceful Christ-like people I’ve ever met. And I thought they would be very tolerant and even welcoming of my idea that we really need to make this place our heaven, and if we are rewarded with an extra one when we die, well, what a cool bonus. But if we don’t, then that’s just fine too, because we lived the best life we could, loved well, and brought joy to this life. Um. . . wow, this is a long comment. Maybe should have been a post? :)

      Thanks again! Muah! Now let’s eat some chocolate cake.

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    • Dear one, I just have to add that I really appreciate your comment. A LOT! I took three years of ministerial training until I too was one who wanted to stand up in church and shout out my true feelings. Now I feel like I am becoming more of a Buddhist, or a Shaman ;) I love the teachings of Christ yet I want to learn even more. I loved M. Williamson saying that yes, He is a top of the mountain experience but that’s not to say He’s the only one up there! And I agree, Unitarians are welcoming and accepting in a time when we all need that! I adored your reply here and wanted to say Thank You!

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    • Well then I’m glad I wrote it. I haven’t written very deeply about this aspect of my beliefs yet. I find myself drawn to Taoism, but Existentialism goes a long way toward describing my stance these days, though I know I am being rather nebulous. Suffice it to say, I was in school, working toward ordination, was considered a bright and insightful student, and in the end I turned toward literature instead. :)

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    • I usually avoid them like the plague, Tilly! :) Two years ago I attempted April’s Poem a Day, the NaPoWriMo thing, and it nearly killed me. Though I did get some great little pieces, and it kept me writing during an otherwise difficult time. Sometimes I can do it, but what made this one easier, and more enjoyable was because my friend was counting on me, and I knew it would be in the church Bulletin, so I couldn’t back out. ;-)

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  4. David,
    This is a great post! Congrats on being able to share one of your poems in a forum like that… if only you had recorded it so the rest of us could hear you read it (hint hint :) )

    I had a very “religious” upbringing and while there was much taught there that I appreciate and still agree with, there was also much there that in the end frustrated me. I won’t go into my current beliefs but I appreciated your poem and comments here.

    Particulars about the poem:
    I really enjoyed the jump between the bed and clouds here… I like the spacing :D

    “… right in the face of those under-bed
    monsters? What could be better
    than to dangle your toes off the edge

    of a cloud, play a golden harp or flute,
    music like no one on earth…”

    Peace,

    Stephen

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    • Thank you, Stephen! Both Brian and Micah had cameras. The reading before hand was recorded, and I may post some clips from it once I edit it (the whole thing was almost 17 minutes), but I’m not sure how the volume will turn out. I was hoping someone recorded during the reading in church, but I didn’t explain that to them, and my dear Brian is a bit too used to his own church upbringing, saying, “Oh, I didn’t think it would be proper to record during mass.” Ah, well, I don’t think that would have been a problem. Perhaps I’ll do a produced reading of it for here and YouTube. :) Thank you! I enjoyed your latest poem too!

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  5. Dave, I really appreciate this poem, as well as your response to Gina’s comments here. It’s great to read more of your story; what you write helps me piece together your chronology and development of your views. Literature is my home church, too, and a wonderfully large one. May Spirit continue to move among its members!

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  6. I was brought up being told I had to go to church, by parents who did not themselves attend. Each Sunday, freshly dressed and pressed, my brothers and I were ushered out to walk the block for mass. I never understood the ‘why’ as a child. It was just something we were told to do. This continued until we were all teenagers when we moved from our little VT village to a much bigger metropolitan area where surprisingly, my parents stopped ushering us to church. Of course, at the time, it felt very strange not to have to attend, but more so when the realization struck that I didn’t want to attend. It was not hard to figure out then that the parental nudge toward the church had nothing whatsoever to do with religion, nor indeed faith, and everything to do with perception. Others’ perception. Since we no longer lived where everybody knew our name, I suppose they felt there was no need to keep up the pretense. Naturally, my inner questions about why ‘appearing’ to be a faithful churchgoer was so important led to admitting I was doing the same. Though I had been one of the faithful from the age of 3 until the age of 14, and had heard everything, I had listened to nothing (above and beyond the obvious. God good…devil bad…Heaven good…hell bad).

    The dawn of hypocrisy was born at that point in my development, and I hated it. Hypocrisy in my parents, the church, myself…all of it. But, that self-knowledge went a long way in my exploring my own faith for my own reasons. I did find it, thankfully, though not easily. When my children were born, it was hard not to automatically take control of their structured religious education, but hard is not impossible. We taught them through example, through living what we believed, and when they were each at an age of understanding, we discussed and allowed them to make their own choices whether to pursue an affiliation or not. Each of them took this to heart and we did go with them to various churches, interacting, participating, socializing. It was actually a wonderful experience for us as a family. The fact each child chose a different church was a little surprising, but whatever they needed individually, or whatever it was they searching for, they found in their respective choices.

    Kind of an end run around the reason for the response…sorry. It’s this. When my youngest was pre-school age, around 4 would be about right, he was on the floor in our living room, where I was ironing. I was watching a movie, I think it was called Radio Flyer, and it dealt with child abuse, which eventually led to the death of a young boy. Now I admit, I though my son was playing, not watching, and though he could clearly hear the movie I didn’t think twice about his being there. Until I heard him crying. I went to him on the floor, and tears were streaming down his face and I was astounded. I asked him to tell me what made him cry and he put his arms around my neck and said the little boy flew his wagon to Heaven. Balling myself now, I asked him why he thought going to Heaven had made him so sad. He put his hands on my face and said ‘Because Mommy, his brother will miss him”. He got it then, and he still does. He’s a psychologist who works with battered children and he believes in Heaven on Earth. As do I.

    Thank you for this poem and the memory of my journey and the complete faith in my sons own journeys.

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