keith holyoak

The Cougar

At dawn I took my boat and crossed
Over to Sonora Island.  No one
Lives there now since the last logger
Left, and the young firs and pines
Hide the deer well.  I held my gun
Loose as I hiked a road long lost
In the moss and nettles, watchful for signs
Of deer.  I never heard the cougar.

I was the only man on the island
That day in November.  It felt good
To walk alone into the breeze
And drizzle, kicking away the brown
Alder leaves blown from the wood
To the path.  Where a creek spanned
The road I stopped and knelt down
To drink.  Something made me freeze.

Slowly, slowly, I turned.  The great cat
Who followed behind was watching me.
He crouched low and long on the road,
Low and long and golden against
The leaves, watching pensively,
A damp sphinx of the woods.  He sat
So still, tail sinuous, that I sensed
He could watch me forever; or explode.

Meant for the moon, those yellow eyes
Glowing through the pale light of noon,
Those eyes meant to prowl the dark
Now met with mine in mutual appraisal—
One man on an island paused to commune
With one cat.  I spoke first.  “A wise
Cat does not trifle with a loaded rifle.”
He listened quietly to my remark.

But the cat did not bother to answer. 
I aimed, and touched the trigger, waiting—
For what, I could not say.  A man,
A cat, we shared some time alone;
I lowered my gun, reciprocating
His silent gaze. The golden panther
Moved off through the trees, and was gone.
I camped there, and listened to the quiet rain.

© 2004 by Keith Holyoak
First printed in The London Magazine (2004)



© 2005 by Jim Holyoak