A Poem in The Southern Review and the Story Behind the Poem

Mr. Otis Travnic 2000-2010

One of the hardest poems I've written in recent times is about my cat Otis. He came into my life within a few months of my moving to a new city alone. Emphasis on alone. Otis was a one woman cat. He rarely allowed anyone other than me to see him, never mind touch him. He was my pet of a lifetime. 

After Otis died, I knew I needed to honor him in the best way I know how. And yet. And yet I knew writing about cats was no easy task. I told myself not to mention whiskers or tails or adorable ears.I needed to avoid even the hint of nostalgia or cliche. I read The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin which contains several eulogies to Merwin's dog. The fact of these poems inspired me.

If Merwin could write about his dog, then I could write about my cat. The poem took me over a year to begin. When I did, I found a fragment of a journal entry that I'd written and abandoned during the last three weeks of Otis's life. In those final weeks  I took care of him close to twenty-four hours a day. Now two and a half years later, this poem appears in The Southern Review. I don't know that I've ever been happier about any journal publication. This one's for you, Otis. 


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.”— Anatole France

I photograph you every morning
In a cruel attempt to capture
A formal souvenir of what I love
After breakfast, and then
Each day a little less
You take a stand, examine finches
Windowpanes knocking

(to read the rest of  "Going—" you'll need to get a copy of The Southern Review, Fall 20012)


  1. Like bait on a hook you have my attention. I recall your heart wrenching blog posts when Otis was failing.

    I know all too well how hard it is to let go of a cat or do that has been part of your life for a number of years. We've lost both over the years. My dog Barron died one thanksgiving evening in my arms at home so there is always a sadness associated with Thanksgiving every single year.

    So I am anxious to read your tribute to Otis.

    Thank you for sharing about this in your post.



    1. Thank you for reading, Michael. No one tells us about the dark side of pet ownership: that we will outlive them and most likely have to decide when their time of death arrives. I'm sorry that Thanksgiving comes with that shadow. For me, it's the last weeks of August. All best to you --- Susan

  2. So sorry about your loss of Otis. Thanks for sharing about how you came to write "Going-". I look forward to reading all of your poem about him in the Fall 2012 SR. Congrats!

    1. Thanks, Martha! It's as Mark Doty has said, the poem is the shellac of our human experience; it allows for the final layer of our lives to feel complete. And yes, he said it much more beautifully in Fooling with Words by Bill Moyers!


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