The nameless cream-colored tom creeps quickly up
and crouches motionless, knowing that the bowl
of the birdbath keeps him concealed from the finch
which perches on the far side, dipping its beak
into the pool of clear water—dipping and preening.
On other mornings, I have seen the cat approach
the fountain as if on a casual morning stroll
then hook the basin with one cinnamoned paw
as he drinks, seeming to take no notice of birds
though all the while studying their movements;
thus he knows that this particular finch will circle
the bath, eventually coming directly overhead—
and he moves not a whisker, so patiently waiting.
Should I alert the finch to the threat? I wonder:
tap at the window, or shoo away the predator;
but I have watched such hunts many times,
and know there is no guarantee of a kill—
for many cats, this stalking is merely a game.
The finch dips, splashes, and dips once again,
before the sideways hop to his clockwise death;
and then, just as the tom leaps to bat his prey,
another bird—a swallow?—darts between them,
thrusting the house finch back into the water.
Cat-like reflexes: there can be no better word.
The cream-colored tom, missing not a beat,
swings at the swooping, sacrificial swallow
in the same motion as its jump—catches it
with the already-bared claws of its left paw
and sinks its teeth into the swallow’s breast,
leaving just a puff of down afloat in the wash.
The cries of the dying bird trail behind
the cat which totes its still-pulsing prize
along the wall outside my office window;
the finch darts back to the crabapple tree.
I put this birdbath in my line of daily sight
to watch the parade of birds and bees
and even deer and neighborhood strays
water themselves, and play, and mate.
Is the earthworm-pulling robin any less
a predator than the finch-stalking tom—
the poet any less an opportunistic voyeur
than internationally neo-graphic paparazzi
shooting hi-res feline death in the Veldt?
Twilight falls on the bubbling two-tiered
birdbath now absent all life; I retrieve
the scattered feathers from the fount
to keep them from choking the filter;
the tom returns for a one-pawed drink.
Wrens and chickadees and dabbing wasps
all draw life from these trickly waters;
tonight a doe will stop to wet its tongue.
And I will watch.
And I will write.