Cats are pretty intelligent, so I’ve never been able to figure out how they fool themselves into thinking that a little sparkly green ball is an object of prey, especially when they get all carried away and race all over the house, growl at other cats when they come near the catch, and stash it in a safe place when they are done.
“Trust me,” Giuseppe says, “any animal that can get completely freaky over a green sparkle ball is either not very bright or is extremely imaginative—and I dare anyone to say that I’m not too bright!” It turns out that green sparkle ball has a big purpose in Giuseppe’s day.
Out in the wild, cats scratch tree bark, prowl and stalk for hours and kill small animals for food, spray to mark territory, make nests of soft materials to sleep in, use any loose material for a litterbox, spend hours alone and also spend time socializing with other cats, engage in rough play and often fight bitterly.
It turns out that green sparkle ball is somewhat of a substitute for all that feline activity we’d rather they kept outside when then came to live in our houses. It’s important to give cats an outlet for their natural activities for their physical and mental health, and considering that this is Happy Cat Month, feline appropriate toys and activities are on the list of things that keep your cat happy.
I figure it’s a starting point for the imagination, something to follow down the rabbit hole like Alice into a wonderland of discovery. In watching Giuseppe play with his ball as I’ve watched so many other kitties with sisal toys and feathers and paper bags and boxes and rolled up balls of paper, I’ve realized that it’s no different from some of the things I do in pursuit of a creative end for my artwork, especially in writing poetry, to inspire a train of thought that I can chase down neural pathways, toss around and chase some more until I have exhausted its interest for me.
No wonder I get along so well with my cats. I actually wrote a poem about this several years ago; while he pursued his instinctive objective, so did I.
GREEN SPARKLE BALL
Loping along, he freezes in mid-stride at the sight of it,
silently flattens himself, tail straight out behind,
ears alert, pupils dilated in amber eyes glowing from black fur,
his whole world centered on his prey,
a little wiggle of the hind end and he creeps forward
one soundless step, then another,
now, completely ready, he springs onto his prey,
a small bright green fuzzy ball with sparkly silver threads poking out all around.
Something about this toy sets off the receptors in Giuseppe’s brain
even though it’s been sitting innocently on the carpet
not moving or making sounds or being in any way provocative,
at the sight of it he’s transformed into the efficient killing machine
which is any feline.
Up into the air goes the green sparkle ball,
he swats, chases, corners it,
a big cat at 18 months, Giuseppe is 13 pounds of dense muscle,
but he picks it up delicately in his teeth and bounds up the stairs two or three at a time,
I hear him galloping around, even hear the bedsprings
as he pursues his prey around the second floor.
I’ve known this cat since he was two days old,
he has never been closer to the outdoors than a screened window,
he has never had to hunt for his dinner
except to find his way to the kitchen.
His mother had no chance to catch some unlucky mouse or chipmunk
and bring it home for an educational demonstration.
Why, then, this activity?
Later, he is sprawled on the bed with his brothers
and I find the green sparkle ball floating in the water bowl;
he does this with his toy, drops it in the bowl when he’s done playing
as if it’s stashed in a place where it can’t escape while he naps
and he can take up where he left off when he awakens.
Cats are not easily fooled.
When you get them a toy that looks like a real mouse
and toss it and push it around then retrieve it yourself,
they watch politely
and when you are done, resume their nap.
This object looks nothing like any prey he might ever chase.
So why is he chasing it?
And why does Cookie play pick-up soccer with a ping-pong ball,
and Kelly leap all around about a scrap of paper,
and the elusive panther caught on motion-sensor camera run after a blowing leaf
and the lion chase his tail?
Surely they see the green sparkle ball for what it is,
or are they so focused on their pretense
that for the concentrated time of play
the toy is convincingly real
and their activity vital?
Do I have a green sparkle ball,
something that relieves me from rational thought
and plunges me wholly into a world
entirely formed of my imagination?
Is that something that humans lost
in the development of rational thought,
our oversized brains finding this process unnecessary,
or is it there beneath our every discovery,
guiding our creative efforts?
When we let our mind play,
our thoughts creating a reality out of the raw materials available,
does that deep focus on the green sparkle ball
pull together seemingly unrelated bits we’ve gathered
and put them in an order we’d never otherwise see?
Did Einstein have a green sparkle ball,
that his thoughts pursued
until it led him to his theory?
Starting the first fire, inventing the wheel,
Proving the world is round, finding a vaccination for smallpox,
Composing a symphony, sculpting the iconic figure,
Creating any device that changes the world around it,
Does it start with chasing the green sparkle ball?
poem © 2009 B.E. Kazmarski
I read this poem at my 2009 poetry reading, “Change of Season”.