Pacifisms

Michelle Burke

Before going to bed, I read an article
about Camus. I wake to find my cat
chewing stitches from her belly.
On hold with the vet, I remember
something clever the article writer said—
that Camus did not ask the liberal
question, How do we make tomorrow
b
etter than today? but the grander question
Why not kill yourself tonight?
My cat’s eleven. Before long, I’ll choose
between treatment and palliative care,
but today, I haul her fifteen pounds
down the stairs and into my Nissan,
resenting the instinct that tells her
to pull threads from her abdomen,
to lick the incision until it bleeds.
The vet assures me that this is all
to be expected, that cats are stitched
on the inside as well as the out.
Later, on the phone with my fiancé,
I mean to tell him about Camus,
but I remember the story of a man
I knew who caught an owl thieving
in his henhouse. He’d grabbed her
with gloved hand and held her upside down
until she went limp, wings spreading
like a crucifix. I had seen chickens do this
but never something wild. At dawn,
he walked the hill he lived on, showing her
to everyone, saying, This owl
ha
s been stealing my chickens. Look at her!
The owl, he said, was mortified.
He walked to the top of the hill
and looked into her nearly closed eyes.
He whispered, I could have killed you,
but I didn’t.
Then he opened his hand.

 

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