My cat left a dead goldfinch — a fledgling — on the patio, and I picked it up and held it in my palm. So little weight, so much of nothing in that feather-bundle! Its eyes were closed, the miniature talons curled in on themselves.
A few detached breast feathers caught in a breeze and lofted across the concrete: a tumble of tiny fluff-waves.
Very delicately, I unfolded one wing, and then another, to observe what is most often unobservable except at a great distance and in motion. Just as carefully, I pressed each wing back to the body, amazed at the tidiness, the efficiency of it all, how each wing wanted to close back up, the wings like a pair of soft hands cupping the body. My curiosity a kind of violation, but reverent, yes.
And pondered: what to do with this almost-life, this newly dead, this palm-full of exquisite beauty and feather-symmetry? There's the whole song-bird guilt thing, the millions of them killed each year by domestic felines. The should-I-keep-my-cats-indoors question.
But what is the natural state of a cat, even a domesticated one? Is it to live its life in a man-made structure, to never feel the earth under its paws, never prowl lion-like through the tall grasses? Is the cat any less of nature than the bird? Am I any less a part of nature?
Who gets to decide?
The ideal diet for a cat is that of small birds and mice, bones, beaks and all.
So guess what I did: I set the bird down for the cat to finish. And she did. Dragged it under the deck. I could hear bones snapping, like the sound of a handful of twigs being crushed.
Later, when I peered into the dark beneath the deck boards, there was nothing to see, not even the beak remained: zero evidence.
And now the moon has risen, where an hour ago I searched for it and found nothing.
Where to file, in my consciousness, this fact of one small dead bird, as I type in light reflected off a celestial body 238,900 miles away?