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: 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,
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 chose him.
My first thought 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 florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands of the yard.
Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.
As much as I want to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation,
I greet 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 unhealed, reminder of his inevitable fate.
I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how,
but will feed his daily fill, as he feeds my need to know:
a life so broken, each breath taken is sacred air,
the depth of wounds proof of how he bleeds.
…by his wounds you have been healed.