Ex-Spec Po Presents How the Wildcat Eats by Jessica Mehta
A note on this narrative poem: As an award-winning indigenous writer, I’m working on a collection of re-telling of Native American myths set in contemporary times. Although the roots of the story are centuries old, one I recall from childhood, it’s completely re-imagined, wholly originally, and laced in poetic elements. Native American myths are typically orally passed down and moral lessons with animals stepping in for their human counterparts.
How the Wildcat Eats
How can one live alone without being lonely? It’s a secret only the Wildcat knows. But a life of loneliness comes with a fee, and the madness of only having one small meal at a time. Wildcat knew no other way, barely remembered his mother and the way she had taught him to prowl, wait and pounce. He was in his prime now, could feel the youth pulsing through his everything. Always hungry, hungry, hungry, it was what drove him from his den each day.
August was fat and heavy with humidity, the drought reaching up from California to singe the Pacific Northwest trails with dead grass. Yards away, Rabbit bounced from one wilting plant to another, forcing nourishment out of the crisping leaves.
Wildcat pounced on Rabbit, steadied him between his paws and drove his nose into the fearful little animal’s hide. “Don’t eat me! Don’t eat me!” screamed Rabbit. It was the sweet cry Wildcat had come to savor before the kill. “I’m much too small to satisfy you — but I can help you win a feast.”
Now. That was interesting.
Wildcat pulled back, but kept his paw against the little thing’s body with his claws peeking shyly out.
“And how do you think you can do that?” asked Wildcat. “Are you offering up your entire family?”
“No!” said Rabbit. “But I know where a rafter of turkeys are.”
“You’ll sell them out so easily?” asked Wildcat. He wanted to play with Rabbit, make him justify what he was doing.
“I don’t owe them anything,” said Rabbit. “Besides, they eat all the feed. All the grains and seeds. I’m tired of nothing but crunchy leaves.”
“So. How do you propose we do this? Why should I trust you?”
“Easy, easy,” said Rabbit. “You pretend you’re dead, and I’ll bring them to you. They don’t eat meat much, you know. But thinking one of their biggest enemies is theirs for the taking, and they can’t resist.”
“And why should I trust you?” Wildcat was looking for some kind of proof. An insurance of sorts.
“What do you have to lose? I’m sure you kill dozens of rabbits. It’s not like you’re missing out on anything special with me.”
“It’s interesting,” said Wildcat. “But I want it today. Can you deliver today?”
“Yes. I know where they are,” said Rabbit.
“Then why not just tell me and let me handle it myself?”
“Go yourself, and you might get stuck with the smallest, weakest one. Go with my plan, and the biggest, fattest will offer itself to you.”
Where Rabbit took Wildcat, he’d never seen before. It was a tiny snatch of farmland tucked along a new highway — the type of place Wildcat would only venture if he were desperate. “Are you sure they’re here?” asked Wildcat.
“I’m sure!” said Rabbit. “The farmer brought them. Or urban farmer, I don’t remember what they call themselves anymore. Either way, he just lets them wander around the property. They may as well be wild.”
“They must be well fed then,” said Wildcat. He couldn’t help it. The trek from his hunting grounds to this developing area with the sodded grass and edged bushes linked him to Rabbit. He’d never heard one of his meals talk so much before. Showcase a personality. Feelings and wisdom.
“That’s what I’m telling you! The farmer gives them so much they can’t even eat it all. But they still throw a fit if I try to take even a few of the seeds. I hear them,” Rabbit said. Wildcat stopped. He heard them, too, clucking and gobbling as they binged on more food than they could ever need.
“Here, do it here,” said Rabbit. “I’ll cover you with some leaves so it looks like you’ve been here awhile. When you hear us coming, try to hold your breath. Or at least don’t breathe obviously.”
“Okay,” said Wildcat, rolling onto his side. From this angle, Rabbit seemed the same size as him.
It only took minutes for Rabbit to thump away and return with what had to have been at least ten of them. “I’m telling you, it’s gotta be a fresh kill!” said Rabbit. “You have to see this!”
“I don’t even know why you’re telling us,” grumbled one of the ugly birds. Wildcat could tell by the voice he was an elder.
“Well, I was hoping you’d trade me for some of your grains,” said Rabbit. “You know what it’s like eating drought plants all day?”
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” said the elder. “I’m not making any promises or deals ’til we see what you’re talking about.”
“My god, that is a big one!” said another, female bird. “How’d he die? It wasn’t an infection, was it?”
“I don’t smell any infection,” said Rabbit. They couldn’t argue with that. Rabbit’s sense of smell was worlds better than theirs.
“No gunshots that I can see,” said another.
“Maybe it’s on the other side?” said Rabbit. “I don’t know, he’s too big for me too lift.”
“Us, too,” said the elder.
“Well, I don’t know! That’s not my specialty. Go look closer if you’re so curious,” said Rabbit.
“Ha!” said the elder. “While you stay back there? How do we even know he’s dead?”
“Oh, god,” said Rabbit. “Here!” he said loudly, cozying up against Wildcat. “Happy now?” Rabbit kicked at him lightly. “He’s dead, okay?”
Shocked at his bravado, all the birds began to clamor close to Wildcat. He could smell their surprise, nearly taste their breasts in his jaws.
“I’ve never been so close to such a fresh one!” said what must be a teenaged bird. “Kind of an ugly thing,” said another.
“Now,” whispered Rabbit. “Do it now.”
“Huh?” asked the elder to Rabbit.
Wildcat had never moved so fast, or with so much grace. In an instant, he sized up his buffet and pinpointed the biggest bird. One snap of his jaw, and Turkey’s life drained out.
“Blasphemy!” screamed the elder as he led them quickly back to the pen. “You’ll be damned for this!” he called over his shoulder to Rabbit, already dumping out the stolen grains he’d tucked into his fur when he’d pitched his idea to the lot of them.
Bio: Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a poet and novelist, and member of the Cherokee Nation. Jessica is the author of ten books including the forthcoming Savagery and the forthcoming Drag Me Through the Mess. Previous books include Constellations of My Body, Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo and The Wrong Kind of Indian.
She’s been awarded numerous poet-in-residencies posts, including positions at Hosking Houses Trust and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, Paris Lit Up in France, and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, NM. Jessica is the recipient of a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund in Poetry. She is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karma yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.