— for Stephen Dunn
The cat curled against my wide foot’s sole idles himself to sleep. I tell myself he loves me, past food, warmth, shelter, past my fingers’ rough massage. I think I know this to be true, but say I tell myself to prove I’m no sentimental fool, to leave me one ironic out. When I cut my hand he lapped blood where it pooled like cooling grease but showed me more affection when I cried for what I thought was loss of what I thought was love; stared into my eyes, touched my cheek with one dry paw until I looked away. The paper tells the story: a giant sea turtle carried a shipwrecked woman most of two days before delivering her up to a fishing boat. How would a biologist dismiss this as coincidence of instincts, the woman saved without the turtle caring? How to explain the turtle’s choice, that it rose beneath the woman twice before she let herself ride that hard back; that it didn’t dive once in two days; that as much as we want to say so and do not, it saved her life because it wanted to? On every God-road known, compassion’s the highest good. I’ve never made or saved a life. But, well-fed in calm salt water and good weather, that turtle had no stronger thirst that day than to try on a cast-off human goodness to see how well it swam. When this slack-ribbed cat, almost twenty, hearing gone, gets up to walk his bones across the room, then stops, seems to slowly reconsider, limps back to where he’d started, I think it better to assume that when he seems to think he thinks; that when he seems to love he loves; that the turtle knew exactly what it did and what would happen if it didn’t.