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A Cat's Tale

by Kristina Woodhill

“Once upon a time, there was a shade tree”,
And under the shade tree I sat,
Idly eating mulberries
And chatting with my neighbor'’s cat.

Peshak was a grungy old feline,
Mangy and infested with fleas
I was careful never to touch him,
For fear of catching disease.

I lied when I said we were chatting,
It was Peshak who was speaking to me,
His tail had a string, a curious thing –
Tied loosely, but trailing toward me.

I looked at the string with a question;
He stood slowly and stretched with a smile,
“Take hold of my string, you two-legged thing
We'’re going to walk for awhile!
”

They say that a cat is most curious,
But that day, I will tell you no lie,
I reached for that string, now questioning
The Where, and the What, and the Why.

Did he know what I felt for a people
Who were hurting but still full of pride?
Was he playing a game, to put me to shame
Would he string me along for a ride?

As Peshak led me slowly through rubble
Of where I had once known so well,
A mist started swirling, at our feet began curling,
And I felt us start climbing a hill.

The swirling mist there soon enclosed us –
The cat'’s voice came hard and came fast,
“Let loose of the string, oh, two-legged thing,
And you will be lost in the Past


I clung to the string on the tail of that cat,
On that you can rest most assured,
For what I heard next put my mind to the test,
And I trembled and said not a word.

To my ears came the sounds and the voices
Of past tribes, their conflicts and wars,
I heard joyful births, songs and riddles and mirth,
Mullahs calling for prayers from their towers.

The voices of Pashtuns and Tajiks,
Blending softly with Kafirs from far north,
Round-faced Hazaras, and sounds of bazaars,
Women haggling over some spice'’s worth.

Still higher we climbed on our journey;
Then sounds of war'’s rumblings began.
I shrank in our shroud from explosions so loud –
The hilly ground shook as I ran.

Still holding fast to the string with the cat,
I cursed as I stumbled and fell,
I reached for that cat, I would throttle Peshak;
I had to get out of this Hell.

On my knees I reached out for that feline,
Intent on the murder at hand,
I cared naught for his fleas, his festering disease,
I knew I must take a stand.

As I reached for Peshak, I saw past him,
And realized with joy and surprise,
The mist and the shroud, the trembling ground –
Were no more -– we had crested the rise.

I stood on that hill and looked round me,
Wondering whether I should laugh or just cry.
Beside in the sun stood that old iron Noon Gun,
Peshak merely winked with one eye.

I could smell that a fire had been burning,
Perhaps a guard'’s warming blaze from last night?
I was sure that I heard the sounds of a bird,
Softly stirring and flexing for flight.

We turned with surprise as it faced us,
Its soft Phoenix eyes on us both.
I had heard through the years that it healed with its tears
I wondered if that was the truth.

“They do”, came words solemn and caring,
And it reached with its wings for the sky.
As its first flight began, o'’er this war torn old land,
Golden tears softly fell from its eyes.

My heart swelled with hope as I watched it,
I looked down at Peshak by my side,
He was healed now and new, with a soft golden hue,
Smiling up at me gently with pride.

Once upon a time there was a shade tree,
And under the shade tree I sat,
Idly eating mulberries, while sipping fine teas,
And listening to tales from a cat.

02/03/2003

Author's Note: Kabul - my one-time home where part of my heart still resides. Hope built for this ravaged country after 9/11 and Bush sent us into Afghanistan. Peshak = "cat" in farsi. The noon gun resided above the city of Kabul and was part of the traditions and sounds of that city. We had all stood on the hill at one time or another looking down over this vast city. p.s. Elizabeth Jill offered a gentle challenge for a group of us to write a poem, beginning with "Once Upon a time". This was my answer to that challenge and oddly, my first poem. I blame it on her. She blames it on the cat.

Posted on 01/08/2006
Copyright © 2020 Kristina Woodhill

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Mara Meade on 01/09/06 at 05:28 PM

Ah... Peshak-jan and the mulberry tree... what a wonderful flight of not just fancy but... Truth!

Posted by Kathleen Wilson on 12/07/06 at 06:03 AM

I am happy to be lead by you and the cat into your Afganistan library once again. A fascinating construction so beautifully drawn througgh the string on the tail (tale?) of a cat. It definitely glows with first-hand experience and atmosphere, which gives it both power and charm. The cat's story to you is fully developed and with cat-like personality and pride. Wonderful that you did this.

Posted by Anne Engelen on 08/21/07 at 10:22 PM

great flow, totaly captured from line one i loved this trip. you tell this tale so well, very entertaining.

Posted by Jo Halliday on 08/29/09 at 12:33 PM

Wonderful writing! Truly evocative.

Posted by Laura Doom on 12/16/09 at 04:35 PM

now, unofficially, part of my (re)education
{o}

Posted by Carolyn Coville on 02/14/10 at 06:37 AM

I can't even think of anything intelligent to say after reading such profound work, except "thank you" for sharing this lil part of your heart with us!

Posted by Dan Linn on 11/02/11 at 09:14 AM

This is story for the ages. A view into the stuff of myth that tells the story of civilization. I flew beyond time to timeless history hanging on to the tail of an honest domestic spirit.

Posted by A. Paige White on 02/02/13 at 12:00 AM

I too admire and name kitties that wander into my life(Renga,Cinquain,Midnight Mascot) in some of my poems. This is wonderful!

Posted by W. Mahlon Purdin on 04/29/13 at 12:19 AM

A wonderful poem, Kristina. So glad I found it.

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