SPOTLIGHT: A Cat is Not a Dog; poems and essays by Lane Chasek

somewhere, somehow, Schrödinger’s cat
has lost her electrons, her nine lives,
and her ability to die once her nine lives

are over—which shouldn’t be possible,
but cats are like that—the natural feline borders
between reality and our bad dreams

lurking in superposition. when I leave my apartment
I can count on bowls of cream and canned tuna
on stoops to keep this city’s cats purring

while barren asphalt lots rot to black dust,
fences corrode, and the uranium dynamo
at earth’s core continues to decay and transform

into new forms of matter, though we’re unaware
that it’s happening, each moment, miles below us,
except when we are aware.

when I don’t leave my apartment I can still count on
cream and tuna to keep Schrödinger’s cat
between the spheres of life and death (for now)

and all of it’s so carefully balanced, the cats
and our eroding city, the rusting Pontiac in the neighbor’s yard,
the way every force is really the same force expressed differently,

whether it’s light, magnets, atomic bombs, or gravity.
and we’re never aware of any physical laws
until we are—but by then we’re so occupied

with life-as-life and death-as-death that we can’t
see Schrödinger’s cat at the window, the bank vault,
Fort Knox, our military bases, making away

with our A-bombs, our encrypted messages,
our quantum scramble to the top that leaves us all
marveling at matter and its possibilities.

Schrödinger’s cat is hardly a menace—
dead or alive, she purrs and laps milk
like any cat would.

The Addressing of Cats
we always talked about
visiting Central Park Zoo
to watch the pachyderms
drape themselves in mud and grass,

and Eliot used to write about
the hippopotamus rising
from the mud and ascending heavenward,
or at least toward the thought of heaven.

you said I slept and ate like a panther,
that I couldn’t be trusted—
that you always sensed the feline
in my every step, each time my fingers

brushed your face. know that
I never meant for my fingertips
to be read as threats or promises—
all I ever wanted was a day at the zoo,

to be called by my name, a Sunday afternoon
spent over iced coffee and Sudoku
with the sun setting earlier each day
until we’re both older than we remembered,

and we can reminisce about
when we were both young
and we thought the greatest
thing in the world was watching

pachyderms cover themselves in mud—
as if what we were and what we become
mean anything with each passing year—
and believe me, if I see you

one of these days at Central Park Zoo,
that shock of black hair concealing your eyes,
and you have a new lover, maybe
children hanging from your arms

or trailing behind you, I’ll know
there’s been time spent here and elsewhere,
and that there wasn’t a thing we could have done,
nothing we could have changed.

it’s been long enough—
we no longer need to
call each other anything other than
what we are and always have been.
but I’ll remember
you once called me a cat

masquerading as a dog—
and you weren’t wrong—
though maybe I was neither


I’ve measured my life and other lives
in coffeespoons far too often

to think that so much history
could solidify inside my body,
so hard and dependable—
even my bones can’t object

I’ve measured my life in kitty litter and clipped whiskers
I’ve measured my life until my eyes and lips turned pink
I’ve measured my life until my knuckles and brain turned white
I’ve measured my life like this too often

I’ve measured so much and seen so little
that the measurements hardly mattered

Stray Cat Blues
(for Hirohiko Araki)

stray cat lapping
the last ounces of milk and liquor—I see you and I

think I know you—and I used to think
I wanted to know you.

stray cat, you aren’t the same these days.

pantry void of tuna and cream,
milk man hasn’t dropped the goods off in days.

is that puddle of liquor you’re lapping
your final answer for tonight?

stray cat, let me live a quiet life—
I can’t erase time, much less reverse it.

stray cat, I’m admiring these low-hanging clouds,
I’m picturing the fog and the distortion

hovering around the sodium lamps,
and that’s enough for this night.

I’m burning candles at both ends, stray cat,
balancing each candle on its side.

I’m running short on time, stray cat,
but to watch you there, tasting

the last of the night, is more than enough for me.


I played the villain
in every musical I’ve ever been in,

and that’s fine—a real mean streak
onstage, but I could shed

that streak whenever I felt like it.
our musicals were always best in April

because we could stay indoors
for days at a time, make every night a rehearsal.

and once, in the middle of April,
I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt

that read, April is the cruelest month,

and I thought of you until May. tell me,
did you leave me thinking I was the villain

I’d always been onstage? or did I
strike you as a softer James Dean?

don’t answer that—I don’t know
if I’d like the answer. just know

that when the lights dim
I won’t shed my costume.

my throat’s sore.
I don’t know if I’ll sing tonight.


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