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PUMA

So here we are. Together, at last, you and me.

How long have I waited to meet you
and how many hours have I spent looking for you
with eyes reddened from searching?
I would not have had the strength nor the ease
to stand in front of you.
But now I have.

I greet you and I have no more fear of you.
I am beyond fear, just like you.
You could take my life. Yes, you could. And easily…
But I don’t taste like much or would I?
Well, maybe I’m delicious like nougat marzipan muffin.

Consider me as equal. I have a soul and I see yours.
Know that I respect you.
You are gorgeous and your eyes glow
with the force of a thousand years.
You are a hunter, but I perceive you without losing my heart’s beat,
so I can not be your prey.
You will not kill me because I see your beauty.
Go your way and think of me once in a while,
when the snow falls.

Now we belong together, eye to eye, Puma.

 

 

 

I have a story to this poem or prayer rather, or whatever it is…

 

Once upon a time, I stayed with a girl by the name of Cerisa Barks (“from Louisiana, baby!”). Cerisa is, besides serving coffee and green chilli burgers to truckers and cowboys at a diner, a radio DJ, a gifted witch and a child of nature. She lives in one of six A-frame lodges at the periphery of a large piece of wildly romantic land in the Southwest corner of Colorado, that apparently belongs to no one.

Stories went around among the tenement ship of that little hamlet about a crazy guy on a white horse, riding out with a 12 gauge shotgun and his long blond hair floating in the wind. Apparently, he had lost his mind after having attracted a dangerous fever in the jungles of the Amazon. That’s why he was so crazy, people said. And so it was not surprising that none of them ever went hiking in that vast and woody area. Except me and Cerisa Barks.

Cerisa calls her sharp triangular house the fairy den, and on its cosy attic floor where she sleeps, she keeps an altar for the spirits of winged creatures. Her skinny squirrel face is of a dark finesse and her southern jive is swift and melodious – of course, her mum calls her the sharpest knife in the drawer.

When she speaks she follows the cascade of her own words with pensive glances from those big hazel eyes, like if she wanted to see how she placed them in space. Sometimes when she is steering her grand Wagoneer over the country roads, singing along to Aretha Franklin’s I Say a Little Prayer  full blast, she’s just another American hippie girl with Simple shoes and dust on her Pelicans cap, turned backwards; a dead ringer for Winona Ryder’s no-nonsense cab driver in Night on Earth.

But look at her when she walks gracefully along the creek under the crescent moon, in her cobalt blue flower dress; her raven hair framing the sharp and wistful gaze; her bare tanned legs easily striding through the warm and whispering grass as crickets crackle ecstatically in their hop swirls like electric jesters. Then there is a dark magic around her and you realise that the fairies whose existence she takes for granted also believe in her.

We took long walks through the woods and over the grassland with her gentle and wise Golden Retriever Annie. We were silent as silk because she wanted to encounter some fairies, but also because of the crazy bastard, whom in my nightmares I had given the face of Klaus Kinski, the German actor.

One day we found bear droppings and paw prints, the other we stood on a wide open field with our arms spread out wide and our eyes closed, leaning into the wind that blew in from the San Juan Mountains. We had great days out there, got chased by twenty mad cows and escaped laughing hysterically and holding hands. I loved the silence out there and how our senses were challenged in such a delicate manner. We were gifted with wildflowers and hawk feathers and the sight of circling eagles which we followed with forlorn eyes.

 

Then, just before the first frost, two neighbours from the A-frame settlement spotted a young cougar, and three days later, our friend Marla grabbed her sons Donny and Joshua, loaded the car and went off to stay with her mother in Durango: The younger kid, Josh, had met the big cat whilst building a dam at the creek. It had stood on the far side of the rivulet, staring at the kid, not moving a muscle.
Josh had dropped whatever he was holding on to and fled, screaming. The puma tentatively, but inquisitively had jumped after him onto a rock, then another one, then couldn’t find its way back to shore and bounced into the water. Josh was safe until the animal had reached the bank further down the creek, but Marla just freaked and told her husband Dale that she would not be back with the kids until the beast had been laid out in front of her as a bedroom carpet, and left in a cloud of dust.

To Cerisa the news seemed shocking enough to have another cup of coffee and to call her friends. Then she lit a Marlboro Light and did the crossword puzzle. But from now on our wanderings were spurred by a possible encounter with the mountain lion. We wanted to meet him before he would go and hibernate up on the red ridge that crowned the valley. Little did we know about pumas since they do not hibernate, as I learned later… At night we listened up when we sat inside and heard potential puma noises from the woodline. But then he seemed to have disappeared – for days, then for weeks. Even Marla returned.

I also walked alone a lot. Lately, I had had some grief because of a girl in town. There were some days when I had the hut all to myself because Cerisa went to meet her sisters for a vacation in New York, so I stayed in and read and wrote and looked at the pictures on the wall more closely. I ran around in my jeans all day and listened to records from Cerisa’s fine collection of jazz and soul and reggae, and did basically all the stuff that you do when you’re staying at a girl’s place and she’s not in – like checking out the names on the labels on her perfume flasks: Harvest Moon, Leap!, Dance of the Wild Thing, Dragon’s Blood, Within the Fairie Ring, …

One day I was looking at the first snowfall and I thought about how lost I felt at the moment.
I had that feeling deep inside my bone marrow that my life was taking me nowhere really, at least not where I was safe and secure and that I would never become the man I intended to be one day, and so on and so on – but I was very miserable indeed.
The only thing that was good about the situation was that I was slow. I was taken over by that certain standing-by-the-window weariness that makes one move more tragically elegant. I wasn’t aware of it then, but today I am quite sure it saved my life: it was a slow kind of sadness.
In the mid afternoon, I put my booties on, laid on one of Cerisa’s warm jackets and a beanie and went off for a hike in the backwoods, leaving Annie at home, since we had already taken a long walk that morning.

I was almost dizzy from desperation and my head was spinning from penitence about the past and fear of the future. It took a while until I settled into a pace, my mind calmed down and my vision became steadier. My fingers began to play with the crisp saffron tips of long grass blades as I wallowed over the dry meadows under a cloud-roofed sky. The landscape smelled of berries, charred wood and white sage; a bit musty like a well laid-in dog blanket.
It was close to the blue hour and the snow flakes danced lightly around me, too sparse to coat the ground. I thought about Cerisa and her sisters, about the alleys of Vienna, about the olive bread of Tuscany, about what snowboarding would be like this winter, and suddenly, as it happens sometimes in sweet hours like that one, I had slipped into a very peaceful, sad and happy at once kind of mood. I think I was even humming a Gregory Isaacs song.

Then I boggled down on a flat tall boulder for a smoke and I closed my eyes a little to relax them. I just soaked in the peacefulness of this Colorado November and I felt at ease with life. The snow flakes were docking onto the lashes of my eyes and I lifted them a little to see how my cigarette was doing and that’s when I saw the puma.
Standing alert and still like a stone, about 25 yards away, he must have been watching me for a while. He was a light cream beige and his perfectly round and compact face had a yellow-white moustache. He was smaller than I had imagined him but still, he was a puma, a cougar of the mountains, a dangerous predator, a killer cat. And I was just a little freak from Austria, heart broken and confused, in a fleece jacket that smelled of a girl with one of the nicest natural fragrances west of Manhattan, and my last cigarette just finished, a perfect piece of P.R.E.Y.

Never in my life had I lived such a moment of absolute, immaculate silence. I could hear the music of the snow flakes. It was like when I was a kid, and my parents had gone away and I had heard the door handle rattle just before I was about to fall asleep. That kind of silence. But this one was mutual amplified stillness and it was high wired with old, old vicious fears that settle deep in the hearts of humans. Only… there were none!
I wasn’t even paralysed, didn’t start looking for the iciness of angst in me, to locate it in my chest and make my heart and adrenaline glands yield to the sensorial trigger. And then something strange happened: A voice spoke in my head and every word it spoke just flowed over into the eyes of the cat as if I wasn’t there, but something else was. A force, a feeling of knowing your place in the universe from your toes to your ears.

 

When the words had run out, the puma made a slight sway to the right and sauntered away, shooting an emerald flash at me from time to time and like a shadow, it melted into the dim spaces between the aspen trees.

I squatted on my rock for another 40 seconds or so, and was just like “wow, wow, … pheeeew!”, left the spot silently and tried to exude circumspect confidence. Inside my mind though, I felt like something very light, very hollow, that you can see floating above fences on Halloween until I arrived at the A-frame.

I took a shower that lasted about half an hour and then I called Cerisa but I realised just before dialling the last cypher that it was already night in New York. So I just sat next to the phone and imagined her sleeping.

When she has no reason to be worried, her slumber can be very sound.

 

 

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