On Wednesday you find a white-crowned sparrow
dead on the front step. On Thursday a halo of grey
feathers on the front lawn. You think mean thoughts
about the neighbour’s cat. On Friday you see him,
a handsome silver-coloured fellow dashing
under the wet cedars. He has no collar or bell
and he probably kills for fun. Studies report
that cats don’t only kill when hungry
and they are the number one killer of wild birds.
You have been watching the sparrows for weeks,
cheered by their haphazard foraging, their hopping,
scratch-scratching on the ground. You listened
to their thin, sweet whistle. You admired their black-
and-white heads, their pale beaks, their bodies
chubby and energetic. Wednesday’s dead bird
seemed diminished: suddenly slimmer, elegant,
none of the pleasant enthusiasm of breath and noise.
Thursday’s halo of feathers just felt unfair, obvious:
You hate that birds die. You hate that cats kill them.
But you do not hate cats. No, you hate how difficult it is
to feel good about the ways you love the world—
selectively, prejudiced towards the beautiful
and the gentle, towards the ones that remind you
least of yourself, or most. It is nesting season now
and the birds are tending quietly to their young
and you think, If they can do it, so can I.
You rub your rounding belly and you wonder.
Some conservation experts recommend all cats
be kept indoors. Yes, you think. Save the birds!
Let them all return to their carefully hidden nests.
But what do you know of feline happiness? It is
only an accident of desire that you love the birds
first and foremost, that you have spent so much time
imagining their lofty fealty to the sky, learning
their modest dedication to twig and egg and song.
It takes very little for you to feel guilty about the cats
allowed only limited natural behaviours, felt mice
and braided yarns, chicken-flavoured snacks.
When you see a cat looking out of a sun-filled window,
you do not know if you witness your own longing
or the creature’s—if you fail, as you so often do,
to forget your own feelings, to see the world
as another soul might: all that exquisite light,
that darkness, the life fluttering in the trees.