Between Concrete and Prairie
But this gauzy giant white halo that appears around the full moon a couple of nights a year stops me in my tracks, makes my head momentarily fall back. The moon’s halo reminds me of something, maybe primeval and ancient. Then, just as quickly, if I’m in Fort Worth, caught up in the city rat race, that feeling slips away before I can grasp it. And I shut the car door or haul up some youth health forms and grant applications or remember 17 phone calls or community meetings I gotta make before I read today’s latest e-mail listserv dispatches of eco-doom and horror. And it’s just the moon up there again. (But with that rare halo.) No time.
I often have that feeling of slipping between worlds. One sacred and one where I’m just standing by roaring traffic.
On one of those days that slips between cool and hot, the tiger-striped, silvery green cat, not yet full-grown, was sitting on his haunches, staring down at the concrete of the street, swinging his head back and forth. At first I thought he was excited by a running bug, but then, of course, no bug runs back and forth like that. Hit by a car? I approached him diagonally so as not to alarm him, the sun above glowing a diaphanous hole through the gauzy, slightly overcast afternoon sky. Coming back from Spiral Diner to our headquarters, cutting through battered old Southside blocks not yet redeveloped, I’d really only been thinking about the big puffy vegan chocolate chip cookie in my jacket pocket. The cat was so gaunt his shoulder blades and hips were hatchets beneath the draped robe of his strangely still-lustrous pelt. I squatted like a good old Arab man ready to chat, eyes poring over him, searching for blood in his nostrils, ears, corners of his mouth. But I saw nothing. He didn’t notice me.
I lied to him. “You be aiight.” As if struck by some distant memory his head fell back and rolled on his shoulders, and I glimpsed the green globes of his eyes: pierced yet dilated. But then his head dropped forward and hung again like a spent sunflower, mouth open, fangs showing.
I suddenly had the feeling that I should do something – maybe say a prayer? Yeah, he was just a street cat. But how many times had people said the same thing ’bout me? Squatting there, with my soles planted flat into the concrete, trying to concentrate, the gauzy situation tempting my mind to drift, I had a fleeting sense of the original buffalo grass prairie beneath us. Were those massive sod tangles of roots still down there, below all this, from so long ago, old and dead, but still in the capped darkness of the soil there?
Sometimes I wonder what lies beneath the pavement of our skulls. When the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean last Christmas, causing such massive loss of life, one startling anecdote slipped out of the suffering aftermath. Most of the native wildlife survived, quickly traveling to higher ground, having somehow known the killing waves were coming. And so did the most island-remote, least-contacted indigenous tribes of people. That little fact is likely the story of the century. What do we really know?
I know one thing: Back before all this roaring metal and noise, back when everything was quiet and connected, there was something different going on here, and likely all over the world, from the deepest oceans to the darkest forests to the swooning prairies. And it told its stories through whispers that you didn’t have to listen to hear. What’s seen as supernatural today was the normal and natural then. And even now, beneath the noise, beneath my own pavement, I still run into tatters of that. Me, I’ve always had this gut feeling that the Sun is the eye-lens of God. Original Fire. And everything original in life is connected to That.
Well, I’d better go, I thought to the cat, preparing to stand. The cat jerked himself up on stiff legs, head rolling into the sun, his neck unable to hold it up. His head fell over toward me. Again I saw the globes of his eyes. Momentarily the dilation shifted or slipped. He saw me, maybe for the first time, and in that second I saw the severe mental concentration of those about to die.
Back before domestic cats were even here, Plains Indian people used to build mysterious circles of buffalo skulls out on the prairie, and they glowed like ghostly halos in the moonlight. It spooked the settlers as they stepped out of the woods and into the open West.
The cat wobbled 10 stiff paces down the gutter, tried to place one paw up onto the curb, and fell over on his side, legs straight out.
Jarid Manos is executive director of Great Plains Restoration Council. His memoir, Ghetto Plainsman, will be published early next year by Temba House Press.