"Dream of a Tortoiseshell Tabby
and You Shall be Lucky in Love"
A Cat Of Amazing Whiskers
If you have the Agnes Browne soundtrack, today would be a good day to set your CD player to "repeat" and listen to Laura Smith's sad, sad version of "My Bonnie," over and over again (as in over the ocean, over the sea). It is so perfect for this time of year when the mornings are cold and yellow leaves drift down onto the driveway, one or two at a time, confirming autumn's inevitability.
I never tire of listening:
The leaves haven't even started falling
Already there's such a chill in the air
Someone's got a kite on the wind . . .
Well, I've got a tramp's whisker that tells me you still care
I had been puzzling for some time over that mysterious "tramp's whisker" in Smith's song, when I came across a seemingly similar reference in KT Tunstall's "Through the Darkness" (on her CD Eye to the Telescope). Somehow, the time - honored custom of blowing a fallen eyelash off your little finger was unknown to me until I heard Tunstall singing the words "wishes on eyelashes fail." Then, as so often happens when something new enters your frame of reference, I began encountering the eyelash motif everywhere I turned! But the tramp's whisker? No luck. My thought, however, is that it may be a bit of folklore along the same lines of wishing on an eyelash (?).
I found some helpful explanations on The Mudcat Cafe . One writer thought the Tramp's Whisker might be the name of a flower; another claims that it's the real whisker of a lighthouse keeper. There's also the childhood pet theory: that the whisker once belonged to a dear old dog named Tramp or is perhaps a keepsake from a long lost cat. Another contributor writes that "tramp's whisker" is an old expression for some very slight, yet worrying little thing that just won't go away. Most importantly, no matter what the objective correlative, the tramp's whisker remains a homely image of loss and separation.
Another wishful superstition that I was unacquainted with until recently is described by contemporary Scottish poet, Helen Lamb in her poem "Spell of the Bridge." It seems that you should keep quiet when walking over a bridge; otherwise, the bridge might hear your secrets and let them fall into the water:
. . . For the river would carry
Your hopes to the sea
To the net of a stranger
To the silt bed of dreams
Hold the wish on your tongue
As you cross
And on the far side
Let the wish go first
From The Thing That Mattered Most
(Black & White/Scottish Poetry Library, 2006)
I like to read these words and hear these songs on the first cloudy days when the summer goes. Give them a try. They won't exactly cheer you up, but as the seasons change, these wistful figures will enter your heart. Moving hopefully into a misty future, Lamb's character crosses the bridge guarding her wish with care; Tunstall's voice travels through darkness, as she looks over her shoulder, "To see what I'm leaving behind." And Smith's "My Bonnie" is ready to move on, into an icy world of global freezing:
Soon there'll be no difference between the land and the water
I can walk out on the ice to places I've never been
When I get as far as I can go
Oh, I'm gonna turn and throw my cares over my shoulder
Along with your memory
I'll just let it all float down the Gulf Stream
And I'll walk home singing
My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
C'mon bring back, bring back my bonny to me
P.S. Yes, it's true, I'm so old - fashioned that I still listen to actual CDs on an actual CD player right here in my kitchen!