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Chairman Mao by Percival P. Pennywhistle

by Jonathon | 7.12.12

Chairman Mao

My cat’s named “Chairman Mao”:*
She’s dropped the “i” somehow.
She’s dropped the thing,
But, Marx bless Ming,**
Still has a frightful Yao.***

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The image above is a 2012 scan of a 1999 oil on oilcloth reproduction of a 1942 photograph of a late Victorian cameo of an early Victorian watercolour portrait of Chairman Mao’s maternal great-great-great-great-(yawn)-great-great-great … great-grandmother, who looked just like her, but was considerably more pleasant.

* Chairman Mao, otherwise known as Mao Tse Tung, is widely considered the founding ruler of the Chinese Communist Party, which is either revered or despised depending on the holiday and/or who’s looking over your shoulder.
The Miao people together comprise what is called an “ethnic minority,” and a fairly large one at that, which typically means they eat more interesting things than everybody else and are happy to invite you for dinner. They live in Southwest China, in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, and Hainan provinces, and in the formidable sounding Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. They believe that everything has a spirit, even Chairman Mao.
English-speaking cats from America (if what is spoken in America can, indeed, be called English) are known to say “meow,” whereas their predecessors from Her Majesty’s United Kingdom prefer “miaow,” which is infinitely more refined. (Scotch and Irish cats pronounce this variously and with rather less refinement, especially if they have just been in their bowls. The Professor will say nothing of Australian cats, who are, in the main, unintelligible, or of German cats, who add seventeen suffixes of various grammatical purports to each utterance, and are therefore highly intelligible—to each other.)
In France, les chats, reputed to be four times as indifferently arrogant as the typical cat, very snootily pronounce this “miaou,” considering the “-u” ending much more exotical and romantical, which in fact it is. But given that the cat in question here (or rather, since there is no question, the cat in statement here, “here” meaning “in the poem on this page”) is the offspring of an elegantly sleek Siamese (whose parents emigrated from Thailand to Hong Kong in the mid-1980s) and a very fat Chartreux, who vacationed there shortly after the Siamese’s arrival, the poor thing (the cat, that is, of the poem, and not her progenitor, male or female) was doomed to a modality of speech that was either impeccably pronounced and auto-taxonomically precise Chinese (which has nothing to do with transportation, unless, of course, one is hailing a cab in Chinese) or a rather brutish and apparently truncated French patois (which is especially lovely when stuffed with fruit or cream).
** Marx, as you probably know, was three German comedians who believed in the liberation of the masses from the tyrannous exploitation of the aristocracy (composed largely of silly, weak-chinned men and ladies who faint a lot), the redistribution of both wealth and physical gags (often involving slaps on the cheeks and pokes in the eyes), the extensive use of compound suffixes, and bounteous beards. This last has proven rather challenging in the Chinese derivation of Marxism, which is thus arguably not Marxist at all, but is Maoist, and therefore rather catty.
The Ming Dynasty played on American television from 1981-1989, and was decidedly not Communist.
*** The Yao people live very near the Miao people, unless they have moved (and many have, to a strange and mysterious place called “Northern California”). There are, of course, African Yaos, but they don’t have cats.
You may be interested to know (that is, if you have not yet lost interest) that in Chinese “yao” conveys a need or a request, and is therefore potentially in the interrogative voice, which would mean that a cat who yaos is, in fact, a cat in question, or better a cat who is questioning, though the substance and purpose of the question are, characteristically, enigmatic, which is to say deliberately mysterious. Unless, of course, that cat is named for the Chinese Emperor Yao (2356-2255 B.C.), who is older than your grandparents, and slightly grumpier, which goes a long way in explaining cats.
You may also be interested to know that “mao” is the Chinese word for “cat,” which may go a long way in explaining Chinese communism.
Of course, the Professor is playing here on the more familiar (because more English) word “yowl,” which is what cats do when they have finished asking questions and wish to move on to rather definitive statements. But Chairman Mao, what with her speech impediment, falls a little short of definitive.
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Professor Percival P. Pennywhistle loathes cats. He has previously published poems with the pleasant people of Wiz, and is the author of the forthcoming Poems for the Precocious Vols I-III. “Chairman Mao” is from a planned collection of cat songs called Tamra Maew.

6 Responses to Chairman Mao by Percival P. Pennywhistle

  1. Isaac

    A French-Indian feline is a papdi chat.

  2. Jonathon Penny

    A papdi chat? Imagine that! I’ll be sure to let the Professor know. Merci!

  3. James Gunter

    This was hard to read, but only because I was laughing so hard!

    Quote: “…a 2012 scan of a 1999 oil on oilcloth reproduction of a 1942 photograph of a late Victorian cameo of an early Victorian watercolour portrait…”

    Imagine what the original might fetch on “Antiques Roadshow”!

  4. Patricia

    Jonathon, please tell the prof he reminds me of Arthur Henry King, with whom conversations frequently ran a spectrum (including into the ultra-violet and infrared ranges) very similar to what my eye detects here.

    The stretch of the imagination also reminds me of the kinds of questions I had to answer for Dr. Berkhout’s research class at the University of Arizona. Those questions sometimes started with statements like, “In [some year in history] the roof of the Vatican library collapsed on Pope [whatever he was], killing him. In [some year] the Red Sox played the Yankees in the World Series. What was the score at the bottom of the 8th inning?”

  5. Jonathon Penny

    I have passed along the message, and he sends the following:

    “Please pass along my appreciation to Patricia for this pleasing comparison. Though he did not know Professor King, he is in possession of two facts, got however second-handly: 1) Arthur Henry was not, in actuality, a king; 2) he was, by all reports, kingly.”

    At this point he doffed his hat, as he is wont to do when something pleases him thoroughly. And then he continued,

    “In answer to the final question, assuming a variable of 2003, 5-5. The professor typically doesn’t trouble himself with baseball, given the preponderance of chewing tobacco and sneering glances. But as Patricia asked so nicely, if vaguely, voila.”

  6. Sarah Dunster

    Hey, I’m an eighth generation Northern Californian. Maybe there’s some Yao in me, too.

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