A poet has entered middle age, to realize that he is not writing. He is an editor, a mentor to others, helping them achieve their own dreams. But not his own.
He works out a budget, plots a year of freelance work and income, and attempts to convince his wife, also a freelancer, that he should quit his steady paycheque. “In my role as seducer, I realized that absolute self-confidence was de rigeur, so I pushed ahead with my soliloquy, drawing a picture of our new life together – frugal, yet with the beauty of simplicity.”
She agrees. Perhaps more for his sake than for her belief in their joint ability to pay the bills.
It is one of the longest conversations the couple has had in a long time.
Their time is spent working.
Throughout, there are cats. “The shadow of burnt rust passing by was the elongated belly of one of the thieving cats which would come and go from the property.” (The poet has never been a cat person.)
But there is one that begins to spend time with the couple. They name her Chibi. She is not theirs, but Chibi pads about. They begin to expect her.
This is the first half of The Guest Cat, by the Japanese writer Takashi Hiraide (translated into English by Eric Selland, 2014). It is a sparse and poetic work, only 140 pages long. Deceptively simple.
The couple is devastated, but cannot mourn at her grave. Chibi’s owner cuts them out, interpreting their grief as inappropriate: “Perhaps the main reason for her anger was the fact that we had been affectionate with Chibi and had become close to the cat without her knowledge and without her permission.”
Yet, “a cat left outside on its own will cross any border it wants.” Emotional ones, too.
“The act of writing also crosses borders indiscriminately. Wouldn’t there be a way to cleanse that thing looming between the neighbor and myself – to purify boundaries and all by performing an even closer examination of the issue through writing?”
A TRANSLATOR’S TALE
Translator Eric Selland has thought long and hard about Takashi Hiraide’s work and philosophy. “The space of writing is an essentially undefined and indefinable territory. A field as it were. (And for Hiraide, this is likely a baseball field.)”
Hiraide does not believe in the line between truth and fiction, just as he melds traditional Japanese forms with modern writing styles. And while he’s ignoring boundaries, prose is also poetry.
The Guest Cat proves him right.
– Eleanor Brown, March 21, 2014