Watching a cat watch birds through a plate glass window (as mine watch prey on the balcony of my 14th-floor apartment, and at ground-level at the river house) is a remarkable thing.

The hunkering down…the stealth, the creeping…the careful concealment…one is seeing the instincts, the naked need, of the predator-born…the innocence of a hunted thing protected—whether they understand it or not—behind an invisible barrier. The cats know what they want. They know that they are supposed to want it. And yet, they seem to know that the wanted thing is inaccessible behind the glass; if they didn’t, we’d have an endless series of broken windows to answer for.

Birds—in this case, the house finches that sing so beautifully (and tormentingly) from the balcony railing> The birds that come closer to visit the small dish of birdseed I leave out for them.  Birds and the cats that desire them. Such a funny thing. Hunting is the art of stealth…no creature knows that better than cats do. But as they watch, the cats make little noises that would surely give them away. Or is it that they possess some arcane cat-knowledge that tells them these noises are something that birds can’t hear? Or do cats, to their own ears, sound like birds?

A hunting cat is a creature for whom the world has shrunk to two things: cat and Other. It’s much like a writer writing…except in our human self-delusion we convince ourselves that our ability to multi-focus is a sign of some intrinsic superiority.

It ain’t.

Writers stalk the world, oblivious (most of the time) to our separation from it. We watch from our perches of emotional concealment. We make little noises to ourselves that mimic the patterns of human interaction. And we’re very, very lucky not to run headfirst into the plate glass that marks the boundary between the rest of existence and ourselves.

We are cats at the glass wall. Wanting the thing we desire but never catch. Welcome to the metaphysics of the 14th floor.

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