Leaving Corky

Hi everyone,

A few days ago I received the pleasant news that a poem of mine, “Leaving Corky,” is being used by Pearson Education Asia in an upcoming English language textbook in Hong Kong. The poem originally appeared in THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS, published in 1998 by Boyds Mills Press. Later on Sandy Asher included it in her play inspired by my poetry, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK.

A few years later Boyds Mills published my autobiographical collection of poetry, CONNECTING DOTS, but SECRETS came first and held some of my strongest memories. Corky was my cat. Even as a kitten it was a scratcher of arms and biter of hands but we bonded anyway, in the way a boy can still love a pet that plays rough one minutes then rolls over for a tummy rub the next.

Corky grew up to be a tough cat. We lived outside the city in a small cottage on a farm. Corky and I had plenty of space to explore and investigate, but I did my roaming by day and he pursued his interests in the dark world of the night. As time passed, Corky fell into the habit of staying away for a day or two, then a week, if he felt like it. I always worried about him and would stand at the edge of the pasture behind our house, calling his name in my high pitched nine-year-old voice. “Corky! Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

Sometimes he would come when I called. He often showed signs of a fight. He would be missing a patch of fur. His face would be slashed. He might be limping. After a few days of loafing while he healed, off he would go again.

After two winters in the little house, my dad found something better. The wind didn’t whistle in under the door or around the windows, I would have my own bedroom instead of sharing the same room with my parents, and we would have an indoor bathroom. I was thrilled. Except for one huge worry. Corky was off on another of his extended stays and I was afraid that he would come home one day soon and not know where we had gone.

Moving day arrived. We loaded our belongings into our car and made a few trips to the new house. It didn’t take many. Finally, we were ready to leave with the last load. This was it. Mom was already in the car. Dad was behind the wheel. I stood at the edge of the pasture and called for Corky. I turned in slow circles and called him in every direction. I just knew he would suddenly appear and everything would be okay. But he didn’t come. That’s what this poem is about.

David L. Harrison

I stand with the car door open.
“Corky!” I call out across the fields.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

“Time to go.”
Dad’s voice is quiet.

“Just one more hour,” I beg.

“He’s been gone a month already,” he says.
“Probably chewed up again.”

The car eases down the dirt drive.
I stare out the window,
leaving a mind trail,
but in my heart I know.

I’ll never see him again,
never know if he’s alive,
never be able to explain.

Leaving Corky,
I’m too sad to cry.

THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS has been out of print for years but sometimes you can find a used copy. Here’s a link to Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Purchase-Of-Small-Secrets-The/dp/1563970546/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351003933&sr=8-1&keywords=the+purchase+of+small+secrets 


26 comments on “Leaving Corky

  1. I’m sorry you were never able to find Corky! What a sad, touching vignette with which I’m sure many folks can identify. Reminds me of my grey tiger, when I was a kid – ‘Tigger’ would stay away for a day or two, but then he didn’t come back for nearly a week. We were all worried; one morning we found him crouched beside the house. He had gotten into some sort of trouble – and eventually would not survive – but we were happy that he was somehow able to crawl himself back to his home, for his last day.

    • Hi, Matt,

      Sounds like a very similar story. Tom cats are going to be what they are no matter how we love them and worry about them. I’m sure we have other readers with stories like this.

    • Good morning, Julie, and thanks. It will be interesting if I eventually hear similar stories from kids in Hong Kong.

  2. Dear David:
    Yes, you’ll be hearing from Hong Kong.
    Yesterday at the Apple Store, I was being taught how to use 2 new apps on my iPhone4s: iTunesU and Podcasts. When I searched, I found the most wonderful video and poem ” If Cats Could Fly” from the U of Missouri and then Mary Ann Hoberman in a video interview. The Apple specialists all came running over to see the great sounds coming from the iPhone and the great JOY on my face. Who knew my daily work on line with you would bring such a climax as this? Missouri Poetry in my lap!!!! Hello World of Podcasts for a 72 years young lady.
    Jeanne Poland

    • Dear Jeanne,

      As usual, you are way ahead of me in all things technological. I still have a secret yearning for my old Olivetti Praxis while you keep moving ahead into the new things that bring us all closer together. I’m glad you like this Missouri poetry!

  3. What a sad and visceral poem. It made me tear up (of course, I’m a wuss). How lovely that this poem that connects so strongly is finding yet another home–as I like to hope Corky did…

    • Thank you, Laura. For quite a while after we moved, my dad would drive be back to look for Corky. I left bowls of water and food. Sometimes the bowls were emptied, but I never saw Corky again.

  4. Oh that is such a sad story, David. That must have been absolutely heartbreaking. I’m glad something good came out of it with your poem.

    • That’s so often the case, isn’t it Catherine? We write about life to remember it or try to make sense of it. I’m glad you like the poem.

  5. David,
    A gorgeous poem, but I love knowing the back story even more. I am a literacy coach starting a poetry unit with a fifth grade class next week. I think Corky will bring out lots of poems from their lives. Thanks so much!
    Carol Wilcox

    • Hi Carol! Thank you for coming by. Please consider sharing poetry by your students with us here. Teachers and their students are always welcome. Are you familiar with my Word of the Month Poetry Challenge? Each month I post a single word to be the inspiration for poems during that month. Click on YOUNG POETS W.O.M. POEMS in the box to the upper right of the main page for more information.


  6. I thought I’d visit this post, David, since I was at your Sunday poets earlier. The poem is wonderful. I had a cat once that was a wanderer. We live by a park so like your woods I suspect he loved being out, & would not return for days. It was always an anxiety ridden time. You conveyed that so beautifully in this poem David. I love the poignancy of “leaving a mind trail.” Thanks!

    • Hi Linda,

      Thank you. Some memories never seem to diminish much. This event took place 66 years ago but the image and the feelings can be summoned quickly.

  7. Loved your poem…it was a difficult thing even for your parents to do. But here’s a possibility:
    Twice now, we’ve picked up cats that got left behind – once by the people who use to own our new house, and then one from a house down the road…each just showed up at our house, and we slowly befriended each (both Toms)…had them neutered, and made them into not only house cats, but lap cats who really weren’t interested in the outdoors ever again!
    So, could be Corky, was just fine! Picture him living out his days in a nice warm house with plenty of food, and smooth, soft fur!

    • Thank, Donna, for the alternative ending to the one I’ve always imagined. We’ve also taken in a couple of strays over the years so maybe someone did that for Corky. I like your ending much better!

  8. Hi,
    I am from Hong Kong. I read the poem and felt so intolerably sad. I asked a teen boy how he felt reading; he said he didn’t feel anything. I told him how I interpreted the poem and I saw him wiping his eyes. I don’t know if I have interpreted too much. Anyway I find literature both a huge world of the inside, like interconnecting vestibules that connect all souls and at the same time abhorable in the sense that I sometimes find the emotions so overwhelming that I want to avoid it.

    • Dear Friend BirdsOverBeach,
      I’m so pleased to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to explain your mixed feelings about the poem and how you helped a young man understand its meaning. I sometimes have the same feelings that you express, that I’d rather turn away than face overwhelming sadness. But sadness comes to all and somehow connects us all through this universal experience. Thank you again for your comment.

      By the way, you can hear me read another poem of loss, this time about a dog, by checking my blog today and clicking on the blog link to Sylvia Vardell.

  9. Hi David,
    I am a student from HK and my English book is using your poem. I felt sad after I read this. Also it was a great story. This is a wonderful poem which touched me. Keep on!

    • Dear Yom,
      What a pleasure to hear from you and to learn that you like my poem about Corky. It is an honor to be in your book. Thank you for sending your kind note.

  10. Pingback: A pleasant reminder | Children's Author David L. Harrison's Blog

  11. So sad, and yet glad Corky lives on in your poem and in our play. That’s one reason we write, is it not, to keep close as long as possible what’s really only ours on temporary loan?

  12. That’s a sweet poem. I hadn’t read it in while. I love that book! That cat story is a little like ourDusty cat that suddenly disappeared. We still think about him and his street kitty ways.

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