by Thomas Davis
The cougar, tawny shadow in the rocks,
Moved stealthily toward the maple grove.
Lake water glinted as the noisy flocks
Of geese stormed from the shelter of the cove.
The blinding sunlight still allowed the moon
To sail, ghost-white, into the dying afternoon.
Far out, a dozen miles from land, the swells
Of rocking waves beneath the tiny boat,
A man begins to celebrate and yells,
Emotions unaware of how remote
He is from land, the glistening chinook
Caught by the white bone of his hand-carved hook.
The winter’s done, he thought. At last it’s done!
He reached down for his paddle as a haze
Crept from the north and dimmed the western sun.
He felt a change inside the rolling waves
And saw how far he’d traveled from the trees
That shivered from a sudden, chilling breeze.
The cougar tensed its body on a ledge
Above a trail deer followed to the lake.
All day it fixed its eyes upon a hedge
The deer would file around, the bloody rake
Of claws in deer flesh promised in the way
It waited patiently throughout the day.
Clouds scudded black into the evening skies
As choppy waves began to spray the wind
Into the man’s cold face and reddened eyes.
At last his mind began to apprehend
The danger in the darkness of a night
Directionless without a hint of light.
A doe and fawn came through the hedge and stopped.
The cougar did not move. Time froze. The doe
Kept staring at the ledge. At last ears dropped.
The cougar watched the fawn, its cautious, slow,
Small movement made toward the cougar’s claws
Retracted, still, inside its twitching paws.
The mother snorted at the fawn. It flinched
Toward a maple trunk. The cougar sprang,
Its body twisting in the air, jaws clinched
As doe and fawn leapt through an overhang
Of cedars as the cougar hit the ground
And filled the silent woods with snarling sound.
Inside the rhythm of his paddling
The man began to dream of children’s eyes.
Outside the wind was constant, rattling
The thick bark walls he’d built, the haunting cries
Of winter deprivation in the breath
Of little ones too young to face their death.
Hours passed. He fought the waves. The shore
Somewhere inside the darkness beckoned him.
He dug into his tiredness, past the core
Of who he was, his perseverance grim
Enough to face the dance of spirits howled
Across awareness where disaster prowled.
Then, suddenly, the boat hit land. It threw
Him backwards. Lying still he felt life surge
Its song into his beating heart, the brew
Of wind and waves no longer like a dirge
Of doom, the willow basket full of fish—
Fulfillment of his family’s anxious wish.
The cougar’s eyes were fire. The man had placed
The basket on the pebble beach and pulled
The boat above the water when he faced
The cat, its eyes and crouching body bold
Beside the basket with the fish, it’s ears
Laid back, it’s growling stirring ancient fears
Of children, grieving with their mother, left
Alone inside a wilderness, the man’s
Life gone, their futures suddenly bereft
Of all the dreams he’d fashioned from his plans.
The cougar’s eyes were suns, a universe.
The man waved arms and shouted out a curse.
The cougar turned and grabbed a fish, the night
A darkness swallowing a shadow bled
Into an emptiness devoid of light.
The man stood frozen as the cougar fled.
At last he got the basket, climbed the hill,
The cougar in his life-force, tense and still.