Sunday, February 28, 2010

Panther Dove

author’s note:

A few years ago, while visiting Shreveport, Louisiana, I heard of a panther that stalked along the river late at night.  I searched that riverbank, but did not find its tracks.

Nevertheless, I had the thrill of sharing the same ground with that lone panther, a creature dark and mysterious.


The female panther prowls
late at night
looking for a mate.
She’s the only wild cat
in a radius
of a thousand miles.

In frustration, she occasionally
strikes down a cow
                   or a dog
                   or a man
who sleeps under a tree after
a hard day’s labor.

When people see
the big splayed paw print
in the sand on the riverbank,
they stare at that deep scar
as if gazing into a dark well.

Realizing their desire,
I decided to answer the call--
I’d draw the panther to me
and by surviving its attack,
show them that I owned
some of its animal power.

I was that desperate
to be the kingdom’s hero.

So I walked to the river,
strapped myself
to a sandbank hill
and waited

until the red ants crawled
all over my flesh like a fever.

The grand feline would not honor
such an overanxious sacrifice.

I then tried to attract the panther
with a panther dance--
I was that desperate--
I tried to imagine the rhythm, to match
that imagined rhythm.  I tried--tried--
--in blood and bone--
to be the moving mountain lion soul--

to encompass the understanding
of millions of years of panther life.

But I looked more like
a goose continually
stretching its neck
as it waddles about.

I am poor.  Poor of flesh.
Nothing that I can push
into my vein will give me
that animal grace.

I’m as desolate
as the rest of the kingdom--
realizing our desire
I am now desperate
to help save the river.

Maybe I can’t be the panther
but if I can stay here
with my arse on the bank
with my feet in the water
maybe I can grow to be a tree
with my roots in the bank
with my roots in the water

and thus, again become
a creature of the earth--

albeit one
with many bark grubs.

From this primitive existence,
I will again feel how
we are powered
with volcanic steam,
again see how we are built
from deep igneous rock.

Maybe then the cat will recognize
my true desire and come by
in the rich night
with a peace offering--
a nesting dove held gently
by its finely-honed claws.

Then the panther and I
will drink the same water
and finally its precious life
will infuse my blood.

© 2010, Michael R. Patton

earnest audio

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