The first time I saw him last year was just a flash of gray ringed tail
Disappearing into the autumn night mist as I opened the back door
To pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch: another
Stray cat among many who visit the farm. A few 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,
A floppy forward ear betrayed hidden wounds I could not approach to see.
I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish. He ran away
His head flashing red, his back scalp missing from forehead to neck.
Not oozing or bleeding, nor something new. A nearly mortal scar
From an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat.
This cat was thriving despite his trauma and pain,
His tissue raw, trying to heal. He had chosen to live.
My first inclination was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep
To end his suffering, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day,
Envisioning the florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands.
Yet disfigurement 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 greeted him from a distance, acknowledging his maimed courage,
Through wintry icy blasts, and four foot snow, through spring rains and summer heat with flies,
His scar never quite healed, a sanguine reminder of approaching mortality.
I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how,
But still I feed him his daily fill, as he feeds my need to recall:
Each breath he takes is sacred air, no matter how deep his wounds,
Nor how much, because he lives, he continues to bleed red.