Wildcat Path

         it would stop, lie down, rollover, playfully clutching at the scanty remains of my dress.
                                                                          Miss Mary Campbell, York, British Columbia


What if I tell you I walked with a lion
                                          in the bloody perfume of cottonwood
that flows before the leaves?
                                          I stepped from a school bus
maybe five o'clock in a black and white
                                          tricot dress while the young cat
clicked over rimrock to chase my crinkled shine.
                                          All my life I've calmed one thing or another,
and half expecting her mother above us
                                          in the jackpine, I talked while the cat
circled on soft pads beside me, licked my hem.
                                          Hadn't I always wanted to hike the maple canyon
with my teacher dress in shreds?
                                          Oh sure I was frightened. Thrilled too.
Falling into a cougar's eyes, yellow stripes
                                          under cool green, like gooseberries.
Have you heard a wildcat scream?
                                          Foul breath and baby cry. I wanted to scream
like that every day of my life. Take the world
                                          with one swipe. Delicate-like, chew on its bones.
Sneak cat. Shadow in the grass.
                                          My husband watched from the cabin window
as I walked naked down the hill, holding
                                          my hair with one hand, holding it still
so the cat would not want it. One shot
                                          and she lifted over the cutbank, the huckleberry barrens,
the frost-split boulder garden. Neither blood
                                          nor flesh visible, the only evidence a circle
of hair, a mark where the bullet cut a small aspen.
                                          My husband chased the cat, saw her by the ditch,
hips high, head low, tail whispering.
                                          He said she leaped thirty feet before she disappeared.
Next came the neighbormen, their children,
                                          a biologist with his notebook, ruler, plaster,
a measuring tape. He cast her pugs and tail-drags,
                                          began to take stories. One man said
he shot a cougar, case-skinned the carcass,
                                          kept it as a sofa cover till it started flying,
then he threw it, moths and all, into the same river
                                          where he'd tossed the skull a year earlier.
Everyone thinks I was terrified
                                          when my husband failed to save me.
I knew all I had to do
                                          was hold a match to her face,
and that cat would run away.
                                          I wanted her close. Breathing in my face.
When I serve my family
                                          at the kitchen table, they lick their lips,
turn toward me–mother, wife, teacher no longer,
                                          but now the woman who walked with a lion,
and for just the warm scent of my flesh
                                          and the crackle of a nylon dress, that cat wanted me.
The biologist typed my story, notarized it,
                                          tried to stash the cat's hair in an envelope, seal it,
but I wear it pressed in a locket covering the faces of my family.
                                          Nothing else will ever give me such pleasure in my body.


Sandra Alcosser, except by nature, Graywolf Press, 1998.