by Gary Short
From behind the screen door I watch the cat
in the bunchgrass stalking at dusk.
With the pure attention of religion,
he waits for the skitter of a field mouse,
a shiver in an owl’s dream.
The cat delivers his limp prey
to the chipped gray paint of the porch.
I step outside, not knowing
if I will punish the cat
or accept the mouse.
At the edge of the porch I kneel and see
the map of red capillaries
in the delicate mouse ear.
I lift it by the tail to toss,
but in the blink of a smug cat’s eye
I feel a tug—an escape
back into life.
In the African journals, Livingston tells
of the charging lion that knocked him down.
When he was held in the lion’s mouth,
the human body’s trance-like response
was to go limp in an ecstatic giving up
that saved. To assume death
to stay alive.
A Confederate soldier at Antietam
played dead when his battalion was overrun.
for a moment he thought he was safe,
but to make sure, the Union infantryman
drove a bayonet into each body on the ground.
When I pick up the mouse
and it jerks from terror-induced sleep,
I feel all that fear
in a small heartbeat.
My panicked fingers let go
and the mouse slips into the brush where it may be
safe for awhile. Though the cat
is all tension now and ready
to pounce again. I shut him in the house,
stand on the porch and watch the first stars
burn holes in the sky.
Dark enlarging around me,
the pupil in a cat’s eye.