Jul. 23, 2005

Curse Of The Cat Woman

by Edward Field

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Poem: "Curse Of The Cat Woman" by Edward Field, from Counting Myself Lucky. © David R. Godine. Reprinted with permission.

Curse Of The Cat Woman

It sometimes happens
that the woman you meet and fall in love with
is of that strange Transylvanian people
with an affinity for cats.

You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show,
on an ordinary date, being attracted
by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk,
and afterwards of course you take her in your arms
and she turns into a black panther
and bites you to death.

Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time
and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency:
That she daren't hug a man
unless she wants to risk clawing him up.

This puts you both in a difficult position— panting lovers who are prevented from touching
not by bars but by circumstance:
You have terrible fights and say cruel things
for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper.

One night you are walking down a dark street
And hear the pad-pad of a panther following you,
but when you turn around there are only shadows,
or perhaps one shadow too many.

You approach, calling, "Who's there?"
and it leaps on you.
Luckily you have brought along your sword
and you stab it to death.

And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love,
her breast impaled on your sword,
her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you
but couldn't help her tendency.

So death released her from the curse at last,
and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face
that in spite of a life the devil owned,
love had won, and heaven pardoned her.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of crime novelist Raymond Chandler, Chicago (1888). He was the author of The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

It's the anniversary of the terrible riot in Detroit in 1967 that marked the beginning of the decline of one of the great manufacturing cities in the country. Detroit, thanks to mass assembly line automobile production, had become one of the great industrial cities in the world. Between 1910 and 1930, the population had grown from about a half million to more than one and a half million, of which many were southern blacks looking for good jobs at the auto factories.

By the '60s, Detroit had one of the highest black populations of any city in the country. Racial tensions were growing. Through the 1950s there were incidents of cross burnings and hate crimes. The Detroit police force was almost entirely white, and Blacks were frequently harassed.

On this night in 1967—a hot and muggy night—an all-white squadron of police officers decided to raid a bar in a black neighborhood. There was a party going on in the bar, welcoming home two Vietnam veterans. The police stormed the bar, arrested 85 black men, and started loading them into vans. There was pushing and shoving and shouting. A crowd gathered. People started throwing bottles. Within hours, store fronts had been broken into, and buildings were set on fire. The riot went on for five days. Thousands of National guardsmen were called in, resulting in tanks in the streets.

The National Guard was particularly trigger happy. They fired off more than 150,000 bullets over the course of those five days. Of the 43 people killed in the riot, all but ten were black. Most of them were innocent bystanders. 7,000 people were arrested, 5,000 left homeless, and $50 million in property damage. Whole blocks had gone up in flames. Along 12th Street, the whole neighborhood burned to the ground. Most of that area remained undeveloped for decades.

After the riots, many of the white residents moved to the suburbs. Thousands of homes were abandoned. The city's population plunged from 1.6 million to under a million in just a few years. By 1990, Detroit was one of the poorest cities in America, with one of every three residents living in poverty.

One of the men who got shot the night of the riot was Officer Isaiah McKinnon, one of the only black officers on the Detroit Police force. He had spent twelve hours working riot control and was on his way home when white officers pulled him over and shot at his car, even though he was still in his police uniform. He went on to become the Detroit chief of police in the 1990's.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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