A cat, and some futuristic Victorian technology
|New York General Post Office, 1897
Deep in the folds of New York
the twentieth century is birthing itself
through a ductwork of pneumatic tubes;
they rise like organ pipes toward an ethereal ceiling
to shoot mail up and down the modern skyscraper.
Look! The postmaster will demonstrate
the safety and efficacy of this invention
by sending a cat through the tubes in a cannister!
A hand, not unkind, seals a stray tuxedo in brass
and blasts her off with a puff of steam.
But the cannister loses its way on a turn,
taking flight on pneumatic wing.
Splitting the engraved tin roof,
it soars beyond building, city and sky
into the Kingdom of Lost Mail.
There, an unseen hand scoops up Puss by the belly,
placing her in the basket of a paw-powered dirigible
which sails off into the workings of the cosmos.
A bellows puffs newborn clouds across her whiskers,
and the cat discovers she knows how to laugh.
A copper heron hovers over a pool of mercury,
snakes its articulated neck down to snatch up
small humans squirming off drops of liquid metal,
and deposits each onto one of a thousand chutes,
while a flock of mechanical canaries sings canticles.
A titanium-scaled dragon glides by on sprawling wings
of brass and gauze, past the difference engine
that guides the phases of the moon;
cat and craft drift past the intricate apparatus that moves the stars,
and her mind expands into its flywheels and dynamos.
At the end of her circuit, an unseen hand lifts out the cat
and strokes her fur, saying, "Tell them, tell them."
"I will," she whispers, believing it down to her very spark of life.
But somewhere on the journey home, she becomes simply a cat:
inarticulate, remembering only air scented metallic like blood.
Sometimes I think I am that cat
landing back in the place she started,
only perhaps a few generations too far ahead,
with no voice but an incoherent meow:
A woman who doesn't know she's a cat,
a cat who doesn't know she's an experiment.
Note: This poem is based on a true story: That Time People Sent a Cat Through the Mail Using Pneumatic Tubes