A Photograph of Me Holding the Cat
I see I have fallen into the trap.
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart. If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in
between where people’s heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws
on my palm.
It’s all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard. I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004)
The actual photograph is not available for the reader to sight, at least to my knowledge. But we can imagine based on JF’s words. What is more important is the detail and underlying interpretation. It is both a liable and an escape cat – implying a cat that likes the outdoors. And JF, a cat person, is very gentle in her holding.
But then in the last six lines she uses the cat’s likeness for its own level to define her own level.
JF states that she is content with being away from people but still connects using letters (travelling words) and she also connects by recalling the hordes of memories. This indicating the poem was written late in life.
But the key to her soul is her pleasurable inward world – and her secret mirror.
And if you read her autobiography (written in 1984); especially the last of the three-volume trilogy (An Envoy from Mirror City) you will glean clear meaning to that association. The Mirror City is her understanding of life experience created by imagination – her mirror city. It is her very special personal world as she looks into that hazy glass called reality. And she becomes a messenger in the form of an envoy. An envoy from another world … the world of imagination … where she devoted her life to literature and writing.
I do like that last line – your great here (life) and my great elsewhere (interpretation).
She was very gifted and led quite an amazing life. Her literary talent was discovered in her writing of short stories and the winning of a prestigious award while incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand. She was awarded a grant and travelled to London in 1956 at the age of 32. This was the opening to many adventures and eventually literary success and recognition in London after spending time in Ibiza and Andorra.
A film was made by Jane Campion based on her life called – An Angel at My Table. The title of the second book of her three book autobiography.