Feral Trio

In spite of the generally accepted idea that a feral cat, once it reaches a certain age, will not allow itself to be touched by humans, we have a feral cat, Mama Kitten, who at first would not be touched and now very much likes to be petted.   On her terms, of course, being a cat, but nonetheless, quite affectionate when the mood is on her.  She came by this gradually, sitting near us when we were outside, showing her newborn kittens to Sekhnet in the garden, coming closer, rubbing against us, eventually letting herself be touched.  We fed many of her kittens off a spoon, once she weaned them.

She is a beautiful cat, and a prodigious survivor, who, starting at six month’s old, has given birth to perhaps twenty kittens.   She is a good mother, until it is time to push the latest brood out of the nest, to attend to the next.  She can be quite savage driving off the surviving kittens when the time comes.   Sekhnet, applying human morality (oxymoron?) condemns the little survivor as a bitch when she turns savagely on her children.   In a better world we’d adopt Mama Kitten, get her spayed, make her an indoor/outdoor cat, extend her life by years, etc.   This is not, of course, a better world.

Here are three of the latest batch of four, lounging on the ramp outside the back door from which, periodically, human servants emerge, opening cans of food.  There are a few such cans on the right side of this recent photo by Sekhnet.


We generally don’t give these beautiful little strays names because every time we get attached to a particular individual he or she disappears.  Sometimes there is a bad smell in the garden and we find a tiny corpse under a bush.  More usually the kittens are whisked off without a trace, to become meals for the local hawks.

Yesterday, strolling back from Cunningham Park just before sundown, I passed several groups of cats, a lounging mother and two or three kittens playing under a bush.  The kittens watched me as I approached, scurrying for cover as I got close.   Their mothers eyed me warily until I was a safe distance away.    Their looks said “that’s right, motherfucker, continue to carry your ass on down the street and stop looking at my children, you sick bastard.”

I recalled the debate Jonathan Franzen was involved in at one time, about wiping out the colonies of feral cats that kill, as it turns out, not thousands but billions of local birds and rodents every year.   Often for sport, it appears.   Sekhnet once saw Mama Kitten take down a finch, leaped up and tore the little yellow bird out of the air.  “I hope she’s teaching her children to hunt,” she sometimes says when she laments that we are not always around to feed them.    

It’s a brutal world out there for animals in the wild.  Even more brutal, I suppose, in areas where humans have remade the natural world, turning local species into cagey outlaws.    This brutality has been escalated (like a consumer complaint to any corporation, only for real) by the needs of the world’s top predator, homo sapiens, until not that long ago another insignificant and desperate prey animal, living by guile, as ruthless as necessary to survive.   I’d love to be able to live without making constant judgements, the way I don’t judge Mama Kitten, but, as you may have noticed, greedy, ruthless, ignorant, loud talking motherfuckers will not give it a rest.

These are three very cute kittens, though, no?


U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!!!

I wish I could remember my father’s exact arch remark every time something shameful was revealed about our country and its people.  He said it the same way each time.   “Doesn’t it make you proud to be an American?” may have been it, though it could also have been “Makes you glad to be an American….”    Words to that effect.   I heard him say it many times, but, sadly, I can’t be sure which words composed the exact phrase.

I’m thinking of this because my sister alerted me to an imagination beggaring “informercial” she’d seen on TV.   While I was talking to her I found the two minute video ad, which I pass on to you without further comment.  Except to say, order your’s today, supplies are limited — and satire is now officially dead in America.



“I’m going to assemble my thoughts”

“Where are you going to assemble them?” asked Sekhnet, covered in dirt as she tills the rich earth of her little farm in the back.   Sekhnet is never happier than when she is covered with dirt.

Upstairs, I tell her, where I can write them down, see them before me, move them around until they make some sense.  

“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know where they were.”

I made lunch for us, vegetable wraps, which we ate out in the garden, which  is starting to come to life, there are beautiful colors everywhere.   Mama Kitten, now almost three years old, an ancient for feral cats around here, came over to rub against my leg and have her ears scratched, her face stroked.  She liked having her back scratched so much that she turned her face around, with an open mouthed expression, thinking of sinking her fangs into my hand, then thought better of it and rolled on to her side, to have her ribs scratched.

Her four latest kittens (she’s given birth to at least twenty, the first litter when she was six months old) are as beautiful as all the rest, as good looking as their beautiful mother.   They are not much bigger than large mice at the moment, and much cuter.  All the rest of Mama Kitten’s many offspring are dead, but when they were alive they were very handsome, playful little cats.   Sekhnet has photos of a hawk sitting on a nearby tree.   The fucker was licking his beak the other day as the tiny kittens were dragged by their mother to another hiding place.   Six months or a year is a long life for these beautiful little animals.

We have a friend who takes care of a small colony of feral cats in her backyard.  She has had them all spayed and neutered and they all get along fine, huddling in winter months in the warm insulated dens our friend makes for them.  Most of them are seven years old and older.   One year, at her urging, we caught three young kittens here, took them to her vet to be neutered.   Within a few weeks all were gone, probably delicious snacks for the hawks.  Of Mama Kitten’s many offspring, every one of them a beautiful little animal, these four new ones are the only ones alive.  Alive and delicious.

 We watch these adorable, doomed little souls, the four of them, then the three, then maybe one.  They play, they display bravery, or timidity, they show their little personalities.   Then nature does what nature does.  Man plans, God laughs.  We try not to give them names, though some, like Dobbie, Cathead and Mini Me, we could not resist getting personal with.    

We were told by a cat expert that once a feral cat gets to a certain age without being touched by a human it will never let a human touch it.   Mama Kitten, as a young adult, often sat close to us when we sat outside, but never let us touch her.   Then she began eating from a spoon we’d hold out to her, as her next batch of kittens also did.   Then she began rubbing against our legs.  Now she is like our pet, living in the merciless wild, surviving not through God’s mercy but by her superior skills as a survivor.

How do you bear the sorrow of seeing these adorable animals disappeared like political dissidents in some South American dictatorship?   I have no idea.  God’s merciless plan, I suppose.  Everybody’s got to eat.  

Sekhnet shot a video of Mama Kitten in a stand-off with a fledgling hawk.   Sekhnet took the earthbound bird’s side, you can hear her in the video trying to dissuade Mama Kitten from killing the bird, which was almost the same size as the cat.  The plucky little predator was not taking any shit from the cat who could have easily killed her.   It was a standoff.  The bird hobbled off to grow up to feast on kittens, most likely. 

When I feel the anxiety that plagues so many in America today I usually try to get some exercise.  I walk five miles a day most days, I ride the bike for short, hard, uphill rides or long leisurely ones along the beautiful Hudson River, and always feel better after a ride.   Since my fucking idiopathic kidney disease, and the twelve weeks of no exercise after the “chemo,” I have been trying to get back into shape.   It has been a battle, trying to get the legs strong again, the heart and lungs back up to capacity.  I tried too hard, apparently, a week or two ago, pushing myself two days in a row, and now wear a knee brace.   I am bitter, I am anxious, I feel sorry for myself, and angry.   If I get up too fast, CLICK!, my knee locks up like a steel trap, with the flash of sudden pain one associates with a steel trap.

Nothing for it but a visit to a specialist.  Thankfully I managed to arrange one for two weeks from now.   I will try to take it easy, keep my knees calm, take hot baths, let the soreness in my shoulder from doing a sitting one-handed push up every time I stood, when the knee pain was at the worst, calm down.   I will try my best to keep myself calm and reasonable.   That is more than most people are able to do but I consider it a worthy goal.  

 There are millions of anxious people who live with deadly secrets, too terrifying to even think about.  The threat of certain fearful truths becoming known makes people into fabulous story-tellers, geniuses of fictive narrative.  They rewrite history, they invent the present, they dream of a future where they are magically not irrevocably fucked by hideous things they can never admit.  

I must take solace where I can find it — from the blessings of my life, of all life, and from my stance– at least I’m not one of those poor fuckers who can’t bear to explore themselves, look at the demons that are always close behind.   I may not know everything I need to know about living a good life, but I have a leg up on many people I can think of.  Even if that leg is currently a bit tender to walk on, or even to sit with now as I assemble my curious thoughts here in the far reaches of Cyberia.




My sister sent me this poem, which was featured dramatically in Godless [1], after a life Sekhnet and I both loved ended, like a candle blown out as gently as possible.   It is a beautiful poem and touches that climbing sorrow we feel at the death of those we deeply love, sorrow that crushes the lungs and makes breathing hard, the shadow of our own death drawing close.  Not only sorrow but the awe and terror we foolish mortals feel when death takes a soul we love.  I had difficulty reading it aloud to Sekhnet last night.  Today I am practicing.

Tis a Fearful Thing

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be
and, oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing,
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh has lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing,
to love
what death has touched.

Yehuda HaLevi (1075 [or 1086]- 1141)

After my mother died, years of denying her approaching death from an aggressive, eventually untreatable cancer finally done, I was alone in her apartment.  I’d been alone there for the several days she was in hospice, but each previous night my mother had been alive.  Now I was alone in her apartment in the dark night and she was gone. 

I walked from room to room, looking at her things, the paintings she’d done that were on the walls, her books, the collected owl figurines in their custom-built glass and metal case.   

At one point I went into her walk-in closet, a little room where she must have gotten dressed after her shower.   Her housecoat and nightgowns were hanging on hangers along with her other clothes.  Her special orthopedic shoes were lined up on a shelf near the floor.  Her family photo albums were arranged on a high shelf.  The air in there smelled like the powder she dusted herself with.   The little room smelled like my mother.  My breath suddenly caught in my chest.  I felt like no air would ever go into my body again.  I felt overwhelmed by the grievous irrevocability of death, the reality that I would never see my mother again.   I stood there for a long moment, unable to take in a breath, sobbed hard for a few seconds, and walked back into the other room, probably to tap at the computer, as I am tapping now.



[1] a gripping drama, set in the old West, on Netflix