Wild Pear Tree - Kaveh Akbar
As I wade through today’s poem clothed only in the hesitant wonder of curiosity, Bhimsen, our cat, is curled into an omelette on the bed behind me. The universe is bringing to me poetry that stitches animal hearts together. After Pangur Bán I bring to you another piece of writing about a poet’s relationship with a cat. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Kaveh Akbar’s poem slips through the inner landscape of his addiction into the breathing, thrashing magic realism of days crystallised as vapour from a cat’s warm breath on a window that is unable to shut out the winter.
Talking of the poem Wild Pear Tree, he says:
“…it really is sort of a poem for my cat, which is a silly thing to say, but it isn’t. My cat was my only companion for a long time, and he is in my current life the person who has really sort of known all of the “me”s that I’ve been. I got him when he was—his name is Filfy, f-i-l-f-y—and I got him when he was four weeks old. His mother had rejected him. He was the runt of his litter. He was flea bitten, and, you know, you could literally, like, if you pinched his fur you would come up with a pinch of fleas. And he had ringworm and roundworm and a respiratory infection and ear mites, and his eyes were swollen shut. I thought he was blind, but it was just he had so many fleas. And we just sort of nursed each other to health; we were kittens together. There were—I mean, not to get too “war story-y,” but there were lots of mornings or nights when he would be the one who came and sort of pawed at my face, and I would sort of wake up and realize that I hadn’t been breathing. This is, like, a real thing that happened, and he was the only one in the house. There was also another instance where I left the front door open one night—I mean, it was cold, because I couldn’t be responsible for anything—and lots of cats if you leave the front door open will sort of dart off never to be seen again. When I woke up the next morning, Filfy was in the doorway, and all these neighborhood cats were on the sort of, like, front area trying to come in, and Filfy was just there guarding the doorway, so we were really in it. I’m getting goosebumps talking about that. We were really in it together, and yeah, I mean, that poem I think is for him….” - Kaveh Akbar in a conversation from ‘Blackbird’.
Read Wild Pear Tree aloud. Let the raw timbre of the words ring in your tin can of a heart, teaching emptiness to purr, and waking up the feeling of a time when “all the days/ in a year line up at the door and I deflect each saying no/ you will not be needed”. Kaveh spreads his soul out to dry in the unabashed heat of our inquisitve gaze, channelling unease, distress, loneliness, and a loss of meaning with a carnival of metaphors whose bludgeoning reality lies in the fading frescoes of memory. The collection of poems is about the “joys and pains of the path through addiction”, and I am still recovering from the shameless delicacy of the poet’s fall into darkness. This poem doesn’t leave me alone and depressed, but wondrous, that an experience so raw, could be painted in so many vying tongues.
When a month-old toddler confronts the world, it does not make a distinction between its own body and the rest of the world. This poem reminded me of that feeling, where even language is moulded out of shape, only to find perfect communion in a flurry of run-on affects. I am wading through its slow currents, catastrophic rapids, and sudden calm. I imagine that only years later, I will understand how this poem, and the others in this collection have changed my being, and my vision of life.