A postcard that fell from a book about writing books
             of history
             bent double a beautiful man
             who handing it back to me said,
             “Here’s one for you:
             as a child I had no reason 
             not to believe my mother 
             when she claimed it was she 
             alone could ignite the flames
             inside the cat’s eyes
             that with faultless timing
             unblinded the country lanes
             we rolled dimly through
             from swimming practice home.” 
Google retrieved: a bad band’s mp3s;
             videos of cats on fire, 
             of a cat being thrown through a window 
             on fire; photographs of angry-looking cats 
             doctored to make them look 
             like they are angry 
             because they are on fire;
             and somewhere down the second page
             a passage from Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough (1922)
             in which he writes, 
             “In the department of the Ardennes cats were flung 
             into the bonfires kindled on the first Sunday in Lent;
             sometimes, by a refinement of cruelty, 
             they were hung over the fire 
             from the end of a pole and roasted alive.”
             As late
             as the seventeenth-century, 
             Parisians collected the embers and ashes 
             of the cats 
             and took them home, 
             believing or not 
             that they would bring good luck.
The night before we met courtesy of the postcard, the man 
             had been tired 
             curled around his laptop
             with a bottle of warm beer
             on the floor, photographs
             of a holiday in Poland.
             Declining the offer
             of plum brandy 
             from the man dragged kicking
             by his own smile out 
             of the woods each afternoon.
             Cool in the stream.
             China cats
             in the ex-pat’s cottage
             with a funny line embroidered 
             and pinned to the wall:
             “The only thing a cat has to fear 
             is fur itself.” 
The author of the book, a Polish reporter, one evening 
             on a balcony 
             in Dar es-Salaam 
             drained by hungry mosquitoes 
             copied into his notebook 
             a passage from The Histories by Herodotus
             who had heard
             that when a house is on fire
             the Egyptians don’t run for water 
             but position themselves at intervals around it
             to get in the way of the cats
             that slip between them, 
             jump over them even 
             to dash into the fire.
             The reporter was shocked.
             There had been no cats in The Histories before.
             One must open great books again 
             he reminds us
             if one is to catch
             falling from between their pages
             their hidden cats 
             dashing into their hidden fires.
The librarian held a book between the trolley and the shelf
             as the man went on,
             “I imagined cats buried
             up to their eyes
             in the tarmac. With each
             burble of the wheels
             I dug my nails deeper
             into my arm.
             Of course I didn’t believe
             cats were really
             But the dry sting 
             of chlorine will always 
             bring to mind
             the cracked heads
             of hidden cats
             and my arm in red and blue.”
On the postcard was a black-and-white photograph
             of sorry houses
             of tarpaulin and string
             and corrugated iron
             on the slide of a hill.
             It was beautiful too
             but difficult
             to enjoy
             so when we got home
             I slipped it
             behind a framed photograph
             in which it looks like
             I am cupping the Taj Mahal
             in my hand
             for safe keeping.
A thin Polish cat’s clumsy young were close enough 
             for her to sleep
             on the bank rising
             to the cottage. 
             “I lay there naked
             with her,” he said,
             wagging my penis
             like it was 
             a teacher’s finger.
             According to Herodotus, 
             when the female cats of Egypt 
             are distracted by their young
             from the habit 
             of going to the males,
             the males 
             remove the kittens secretly
             or by force. 
             It is a creature extremely fond 
             of its young
             and must replace them.
             “What else to do but
             return to 
             your bloody mate?”
When the Ardennes cats burned in burning wicker cages 
             their screams were accompanied 
             by boiling skin’s syncopated popping
             and the crowd was delighted
             to be rid of witches. 
             When a cat died a natural death
             in ancient Egypt
             the people of its household 
             would shave off their eyebrows 
             in mourning. When
             I fell asleep that night I had a dream.
             In the dream, there was a fire.
             Through a door in the fire
             was a country lane. 
             In the middle of the lane
             an envelope. On the envelope:
             “For the present”; 
             and in smaller letters below: 
             “No cheating.”
             I opened it 
             and there was the beautiful man
             in a frame. I had the feeling
             I was being unfaithful 
             to him 
             with him 
             but he assured me the water he swam in 
             would protect my house
             from fire.
             I didn’t believe it
             but hung it on a nail
             above the door
When the following morning we were woken by each other 
             the man reported
             he had not been able to sleep
             in a stranger’s bed.
             He had tried a modern kind
             of counting sheep,
             clicking one-by-one 
             through Google images
             looking for but not 
             hoping to find
             the postcard’s slums.
             he said
             he had come across a poem
             called “Hot Demolition”
             that had a sickening footnote:
             “This term refers to the contemporary practice 
             of some Filipino landlords
             who will douse a cat with kerosene, 
             set it alight, then direct it 
             into tindery shanties. 
             It is a cheap way of clearing the land, 
             which can then be relet.”
             He said he didn’t really need
             to read the poem 
             after that. 
When later in the morning we trotted arm-in-arm
             through the shopping centre
             we got some looks. 
             He thought he heard
             a group of women spill
             something about being 
             put to the stake.
             “That’s Birmingham for you,” 
             I said rolling my eyes but 
             was scared and started 
             talking any old rubbish.
             “You know how cat 
             means girlfriend . . .
             and a cat on fire
             is a hard-on
             in need of
             attention . . . well
             they can’t both be cats
             can they,
             let alone on fire,
             when one is inside
             the other?!” He laughed
             but said nothing 
             for a while.
As far as I can see, there are two basic flame-types.
             Nasty slight quick 
             ones grasping
             everything they can
             and slow 
             lush choosy ones
             so cool they look
             Does fire look 
             the same 
             What if you are Polish 
             and in Africa?
Before his “first moult,” he eventually replied, he avoided
             anyone he suspected
             of being a fairy. 
             When once a friend was
             he joined 
             because he knew
             then the friend
             could not really
             want him
             like that.
             “I saw some photos
             the other day,” he sighed, raising
             his chin 
             for a dramatic pause,
             “turns out he’s a great big bear.”
When we had said goodbye, him not kissing back so much
             as I was kissing, but
             promising to message
             I wanted to write the poem
             the man had not been able
             to bring himself 
             to read
             in my bed
             without bringing myself
             to read it either. 
             It seemed romantic to remember 
             for both of us
             what neither of us
             had seen. 
             I reopened 
             the book by the Polish reporter
             but nothing fell out.
             I would have to begin
             on my own
             with embers,
             the same
             if the fire started
             in an accident
             during kerosene-lit work
             to pay for the children’s school uniforms
             and if it started
             with a cat
             running away
             from its fur ablaze.