Andrew Liu’s “The Cat As We’re Leaving” & Escapism in the Age of COVID-19

In this strange era where the Venn-diagram of creative space, workspace and living space looks like a single worn-out circle, creativity becomes a powerful means of escapism. To me, the word “escapism” carries connotations of playing make-believe during recess in elementary school, my starry-eyed friends and I fabricating entire worlds, galaxies, universes in that blissful half-hour interlude to school’s monotony.

Children are master escapists, but it’s something we seem to outgrow. Why?

Maybe for a lot of us, as we age out of the fantasies of our youth, escapism still seems childish in nature, since we’re increasingly encouraged to orient our lives around the real world and its predictable rhythms. However, as I’m sure you’ve heard too often now, these times are unprecedented. This means that all of us, artists or otherwise, are granted the opportunity of re-discovering escapism in the context of creativity.

In the midst of daily uncertainty and worry, getting away from it all through art becomes, paradoxically, grounding.

(Blog post continued after the full text of Andrew Liu’s The Cat As We’re Leaving.)

The Cat as We’re Leaving

by Andrew Liu

I crouch behind the couch.

Behind the sofa, between curtain

and palm frond. Houseplants everywhere

spread their alien shadows

on trunks and stray clothes.

Out on the street,

the twilight elongates

as luggage is packed,

as orders are barked,

as someone’s vacation home

burns on tv.

Maybe you’ll take me

up in your arms

to whatever weird and weightless city

dominates your strange mind this day.

You and the littler one (still big enough

to carry me), you and the man

who smells like aftershave and nervous

sweat, of both the lion and the cornered mouse.

You throw my toys in the hamper.

You do not think I can open the dryer.

But I’ve been practicing.

Officers arrive. They pound on the door

and you are notified. It’s like

they were always there. Standing

on the front step, a shadow

that won’t go away. A weight

measured out in footprints of ink,

shoes spooning out each sand mound of darkness.

Is it right for me to believe in fate?

What right? Most days

I whine for food, for attention.

I chitter and flick my ears

if given too much or too little.

You spoil me and I deign

to love you back.

Most days I worry about nothing.

Naps, a warm seat,

whether you operate the hum box,

the book of warmth, or the dreaded hose of howling.

I never thought I would ever be so free

as to miss you torturing my toe beans.

With your Chinese interrogation techniques,

with your stupid baby voice.

I know.

I have no dignity in this house.

I need you.

As much as I liked to pretend otherwise,

who else was going to play God for me?

Who else was trying to be my world?

I have no dignity in this house.

I just never figured

that neither did you.

The soldiers come. One final time

you are heading out, tears already

salting your cheeks. You pick me up

and put me down. I remember how

you forgot to feed me

anything other than

the sea on your cheeks.