Leave a door open long enough,
a cat will enter.
Leave food, it will stay.
Soon, on cold nights,
you’ll be saying “Excuse me”
if you want to get out of your chair.
But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat
is “Excuse me.”
Nor Einstein’s famous theorem.
Nor “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
In the dictionary of Cat, mercy is missing.
In this world where much is missing,
a cat fills only a cat-sized hole.
Yet your whole body turns toward it
again and again because it is there.
~Jane Hirshfield “A Small-Sized Mystery” from Come, Thief.
The first time I saw him, it was just a flash of gray ringed tail
disappearing into autumn night mist as I opened the back door
to pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch:
just another stray cat among many who visit the farm.
A few linger and stay.
So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees,
a gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish,
watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses,
creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.
There was something in the way he held his head,
an oddly forward ear; a stilted swivel of the neck.
I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish.
He ran, the back of his head flashing red, scalp completely gone.
Not oozing, nor something new, but recent. A nearly mortal scar
from an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat.
This cat thrived despite trauma and pain, tissue still raw, trying to heal.
He had chosen to live; life had chosen him.
My first thought was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep
to end his suffering mercifully, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day,
envisioning florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible
in the shadowlands of the barnyard.
Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.
As much as I wanted to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation,
I always greeted him from a distance, a nod to his maimed courage,
through wintry icy blasts and four foot snow,
through spring rains and summer heat with flies.
His wounds remained always visible,
a reminder of his inevitable fate.
I never did stroke that silky fur,
or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knew how,
but still fed his daily fill,
as he fed my need to know:
the value of a life so broken,
each breath taken is filled with sacred air.
The depth of his wounds show how much he bleeds.
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