“Curiosity killed the cat, but I’m not a cat.”

I wish I could take the credit for the clever title above, but it actually comes from a friend. During work one day this week, a friend e-mailed me to ask how I was doing with the above quote in the subject line. I remarked that it was a curious and lovely quote, and had never heard it before. She said it was something she and her brothers used to say to each other. That could have been the last of it, but this friend and I share a common love of language, as well as poetry, so we kept talking about the phrase.

I told her it begged a poem, and she obliged with this:

Curiosity killed the cat
Did the cat get too personal?
Ask one too many questions?
Notice something it oughtn’t?
Look through a door
Someone forgot to shut?
Perhaps the cat thought it could fix everything
If only it had the answers.
Curiosity killed the cat.
I’m not a cat.
But are we?

Of course, I thought this was an amazing poem, though she called it “hastily-composed and unedited”. But I decided it was time to take a break during work and return the favor:

Tell Your Cat ‘Goodbye’
They tell me curiosity killed the cat.
And since the rope of your Maiden is taught,
they must have been right.
I tried to harmonize our discord,
To perceive what you would not tell me,
To intrigue your senses and intellect,
To resist your censure.

But I am not a cat.
Though the fault seemed small in my eyes,
you must have your reasons for this severance.
I have no swaying tail with which to balance,
no midnight eyes with which to see in the dark,
no velvet fur with which to attract,
no sharpened claws with which to defend myself.

If this is to be goodbye, then I wish you well.
I also wish I had nine lives.

And no, we did not stop there. We were just getting started! My friend thought of a short but witty sample (though she does say she is unsure if it is completely original to her):

The cat belonged to the neighbors.
Curiosity was just the name we gave
My grandpa’s rifle.

And my own short version:

Here Lies Curiosity, a Cat (1994-2003)
Yes, I left you alone in the sunroom one afternoon.
And it was me who had left the window open.
True, I placed the ottoman beneath it for direct sunlight.
And the ornamental bird-feeder on the sill–that was me, too.
But did I tell you to pounce at the chickadee perched there?
No, that was your own damn fault.

I wrote a second in quick succession (using the completed phrase “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”). It is, admittedly, less a poem and more a short history:

‘Twas Not Care That Did It
I always hunt with my two favorite dogs.
There are others, but these two I reared from pups.
My constant companions in woods or field, they seldom strayed from my side.

The first was a short-haired pointer, with a sleek coat and taught muscles.
His German origins, I liked to think, were reflected in his steadfast ethic.
He was a loyal and affectionate friend, and he always finished the job.

The second, two years his junior, was a female setter, red and white.
Perhaps her Irish blood was the cause of her inattentiveness.
But being an Irishman myself, I loved her all the more for it.

The first day of hunting in the fall, I packed my rifle and pack and we three set off.
We followed the well-worn path to our favorite field of heather, in full late-summer bloom.
I unleashed the dogs and they jumped at my side for excitement, unable to contain a few yips and whimpers.

I scanned the field from atop a small ridge; today, we sought rabbits.
Seeing movement in the brush, I looked down the gun’s sights.
Sure enough, a grey coat of fur flashed in the undergrowth.

I waited for it to reappear, and I pulled the trigger, the sound of the shot resounding in the valley.
I looked closely for sign of movement, but I saw the grey form there still as death.
“Go ‘n!” I shouted, and the dogs sped toward the spot, competing to bring back the hare.

As I waited for them to retrieve the kill, I pulled my pipe from its leather pouch.
I was reaching for my tobacco and I happened to glance up to see my dogs suddenly shift direction.
Something else must have been hiding in the heather, and it had certainly piqued their interest.

I followed their chase through the uneven landscape, two large blurs chasing a small one.
They gained on their prey and I saw the Irish setter lunge forward with wild effort.
Then all was still; the chase had ceased and they had gained their prize.

The pair loped back toward me, and I saw them stop near the point where I had spied and shot the rabbit.
The spotted setter dropped her trophy, sniffed around for the rabbit and, finding it, picked it up.
The older pointer collected what she had dropped and trotted alongside back to me.

I narrowed my eyes to see what it was they were bringing back to me; I could just barely make it out.
Sure enough, the setter had a rabbit in her mouth, but it looked like my pointer was carrying a dead stray tom.
I guess the saying is true: Curiosity killed the cat, but Satisfaction brought it back.”

Then it was my friend’s turn to write two in a row:

Curiosity killed the cat
That poked in holes
And around corners
Where it wasn’t invited.

Curiosity killed the cat
That pushed its boundaries
Looking for just one bit
More.

Curiosity killed the cat
That wasn’t satisfied
With appearances
And easy answers.

I’m not the cat.
My mind may be the corners
My heart the boundaries
My eyes the facade you try to see through.

But

I’m not the cat.
Though you might be.
And your satisfaction
Is unlikely to bring you back to me

For to wander towards a soul
Out of mere curiosity
Takes exactly the kind of pride
That hurts me the most.

And the final one, also my friend’s:

Was’t care killed the cat
Or curiosity?
The sparrow looked wonderful
Sitting on the windowsill.
But who is to say
Whether the cat were simply inquiring
Into the unknown
Or if it were the worries of life
That drove the feline closer
To something free of care apparent.
Perhaps each was enough of a reason
Because they were indistinguishable
In the moment.

If you’ve never written poetry back and forth with a friend using a common theme, I highly recommend it. It made an otherwise uneventful day rather fun. I enjoyed the challenge of crafting multiple poems around a single phrase or idea, and we both enjoyed reading the other’s wonderful works. I have decided to not mix in too much analysis with the poetry above, but see if you can find the Biblical or literary references scattered throughout (or the clever parallel structure in one or the fun alliteration in another)!

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