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Kaze: Ted the Cat’s Literary Roots

It was in the 2nd grade that I was introduced to the first poems I ever liked—a slew of them, in fact, all written by a cockroach named Archy.

Archy (whose lower-case spellings were not an affectation, like those of e.e. cummings, but a necessity since he could only manage to type by throwing himself head-first onto the keys) was a talented vers libre poet whose muse—after a fashion—was the alley cat Mehitabel.  Archy was himself a feisty denizen of city saloons and trash bins, a little bit Damon Runyan, a little bit Kit Marlowe.  Mehitabel was herself the reincarnated soul of Cleopatra, and as gloriously large-hearted a female as ever appeared in American letters. 

The typewriter Archy used belonged to New York Sun columnist Don Marquis, who would discover Archy’s poems when he arrived at the newsroom each morning.  This modus operandi may remind you of our favorite contemporary feline vers libre poet, Ted the Cat, who uses my computer when I’m not on it. This is no coincidence.

Here’s one of my favorite poems by Archy the cockroach.  If you have kids or grandkids, think of simpler times and buy this book.

dear boss i met mehitabel
last night and asked her if
she did not think times were getting
a little better
she was digging for sustenance in a trash heap
at the moment and she looked as if
she might be a part of the heap herself
one of her legs has been damaged again
in a fight with a rival in love
but she began to caper when i spoke to her
and replied as follows

good times and bad times
recoveries and depressions
wotthehell do i care
as long as somethings doing
when i lived on salmon
and oysters stewed in cream
i wasnt always happy
when i dug my scoffins
out of frozen garbage heaps
i wasnt always sad
economic problems
never tell the story
as far as im concerned
once i lived a fortnight
on moonlight wind and grass
and i danced every evening
with the shadows in the alley
and entertained my boy friends
with my melodious songs
wotthehell do i care
if the stomachs empty
when the spirits full
i have had my ups
and i have had my downs
but whether i was up
or whether i was down
there was something in my blood
that always set it dancing
and when the blood was jigging
the feet began to caper
some day i will voyage
on top of a garbage scow
just a stiff dead feline
wreathed in orange peel and melon rinds
with shop worn salad garnished
down the bay theyll take me
to the dumping grounds
defunct as ancient nut shells
but wotthehell do i care
that day has not arrived
and good times or bad times
hard times or easy
there are three good feet
on old mehitabel
and she will keep them jigging
till the grim reaper slices
two more of them off
and then she ll dance on one
till its frozen and resigns
and then her soul will caper
along the milky way
theres a dance or two in the old dame yet
and the word is toujours gai
boss i think mehitabel is mistaken
about the milky way
i think she is more like to dance
on hot cinders in the hereafter
                                archy

I am of mixed feelings when I report that “Ted the Cat” now has more fans on Facebook than “Archy and Mehitabel.”  Such is the fleeting quality of literary fame.

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