“…Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string; …
I’ve been watching from a place beyond the windowful of sunshine in the kitchen so the birds won’t notice me watching them. They are feeding avidly this morning, as always, but clearly more frantically because I was late in replenishing the feeder.
In the next room, on the landing of the steps leading to the second floor, our cat also watches. He is not hungry like those birds. He is just full of genes that cause a cat’s tail to twitch, teeth to chutter, and eyes to narrow on something he is certain is born to be caught, torn apart and eaten. It is just his job, he believes, deep in his bones. He is keeping a low profile as he peeks over the window frame moulding.
(The cat of whom I speak in his kittenhood, practicing.)
He and I both are avoiding the intertwining the “eye beams” spoken of by Donne — those invisible tracks between my eyes and those of another creature. Neither of us wants the birds to know we are watching.
The intelligence that comes in through eyes is instant, undetectable, unique to the moment, and trackless! As an artist, I have thought a lot about seeing, and since childhood, have been really charmed by the truth that you cannot know when one’s own eye beams are intersecting another’s. Unless that other is using the same tracks as you, there is nothing to tell you that someone eye beams are making tracks a thousand thousand places in the air!
I am unaware when another creature has me in its sights. I walk the dogs in the woods at night and know there are creatures in the trees watching me simply because I have read that night-seeing creatures do a LOT of looking at anything that moves in the dark. (Sometimes I hear them chuckle. That’s an auditory trackable clue.)
In the morning I walk the same dogs before I take out my bag of sunflower seeds. I am announced! Someone with a raucous cry is yelling “She is here now, food is coming next.” I can’t find that jay, no matter how I look, and would not know I had interrupted his line of sight except for his outcry. Squirrels chuck chuck at me and very tiny tinkling noises tell me the golden crown kinglets are sharing news.
I looked in the eye of a young robin several springs ago. His claw got caught in a bit of netting I had put around the blueberry bush. His mother was having a fit and he was jumping around in terror. I went inside and got some small scissors while figuring out how to do this rescue in the gentlest way.
His eye was round and shiny, and his eye-beam direct and vital. Birds don’t look at you straight on, like people, but from one or the other side of their head. So it is a bird profile that you see, with one eye showing. I looked at him and called him “little fellow” in a soft voice, and put my hand over his back very gently but firmly so he wouldn’t struggle. I could then see how to fit the scissor points so that I would cut only the plastic net to release it. It took only a few seconds, really, to save this bird’s life. I opened my hand and he scrambled away and up into a bush. I left so his mother and he could settle down to regular business.
It is such a privilege to look into another creature’s eye.
I have loved and used the saying “A cat can look at a king,” (attributed sometimes to Lewis Carroll, but I haven’t yet found out for sure), for describing the freedom the cat gives himself, the privilege the cat takes for granted, and no one can stop him– i.e., to look at whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases, whether the object cares or not. And he may refuse to look if he wants to, and often does when someone tries to line up eye-beams with him.
The finest would be
if any cat a sealpoint
stretching legs together overlong–
taupe stockings against
thighs of ancient watered silk–
offwhite velvet with a nap of heaven.
Now curl cat
orderly just so
and let me own a statue.
Your satin swiveling signals
and one point’s left unfurled.
Primp just once.
combed line now abreast your prow
you yawn your face
a toothful chasm
nearly inside out (very like a snake!)
Then circle once–
yes make your mask serene
to gaze in azure–
to blink your slow cadence.
Will you sleep?
Not now as you are watching me.
(I wrote this to another cat in 1997. copyright SGH aka Old Swimmer)