Early evening, late in February,
I see a tiger in the shadows by the fence.
There are believed to be no tigers in Worcester
at the moment. Our lone animal park
holds cougars and polar bears. If anyone here
owns a surreptitious tiger, they’ve been keeping it
I watch the shadow tiger move past the cars
into the scrubby, snow-stained backyard.
Perhaps it is a Siberian tiger.
If a tiger once tastes human flesh, it is said
that it will remain a maneater forever. This one
clearly sees me, but makes no move in my direction.
It may have eaten. It may not know how sweet I am.
Or perhaps that’s just a legend. Perhaps the dream tiger,
real or unreal, has tried a man and found it wanting,
is seeking goat or sheep or some game creature instead.
The tiger (and I am certain now that it is unreal
but cannot take my eyes from it) has stopped by the oak tree.
It looks up at something. Perhaps at unfamiliar bark
and a scent it’s not had to identify before. Perhaps
it is listening for voices it may recognize.
I call it, using a name I haven’t spoken in years.
It turns and tenses, fangs and stripes bared
but transparent. What I see through its body
seems menacing in a way it was not before
as if there was an overlay of pain before me
that I am seeing only now.
Mystery cat, tiger in the mind.
I long for you to be more real than I can conjure.
Come and tear me up, leave my true blood on the ground.
I am tired of my fear of ghosts,
wish to fight something solid,
to die for something real.