When the Tigers are Gone

No one mourned the passing of the tiger
in the expanding towns
that lay heavy like a carcass
on his old hunting grounds.
And now there are no more man-eaters
and no more gods,
and hollowed of their ancient fears,
the townsmen are slow and sad.
The festivals of hysteria are all gone,
the nights when women told stories
to terrified children are all gone.
When the last one fell
in the dust of a dying world,
the stripes burned to the souls
of all the people,
fled to the lost grasslands,
unseen forever.

Tigers in a Circus

Under the glaring lights
of the big parade tent
the tigers seem larger than life,
arranged on pedestals
like giant wind-up toys.

And some growl
beneath white-plumed chests,
and some gaze off, that way,
bored by the arrogant tamer’s antics
for the popcorn munching crowds.

A crack of the whip
and one tiger rears up on hind legs,
makes a praying gesture,
while little boys in sailor suits hiss
as a tigress leaps,
through her flaming hoop.

The kaleidoscopic pageantry
of sparks of orange and black,
the white of bared teeth,
the amber of sullen, ferocious eyes,
revolving round the black figure’s
outstretched arms,
as though he held a
captured fear by its strings.

But suddenly, one breaks ranks
and lunges, swipes,
roars the untranslatable rage,
and in a split second the whip
cracks down.
The unspoken, wished-for thing
flashes on the watchers’ faces

like a gasp,
and a little girl,
clutching cotton candy,
buries her face in her mother’s blouse,
terrified by this freedom
made to dance for
these tamed souls.

The Insects


Without a heart, they cannot break as we do.
And without dreams, they love the way that soil loves,
lacking enemies.
They are the warmth of movement in our decay.
But we are burdened by a thought and an image
that expires in a sad flame.
We are what they diligently tear and scatter
in an undergrowth of dead years,
our years,
awaiting the mouths of their relentless love.


I gather about me a moss of need,
sentiment, dream and craving.
Like the rock of afflicted mollusks,
I am a burden of sea, a salt trailed by wounds.
The clay of accumulated sorrow spoils my form.
But they are nature’s perfected coil,
the smooth and frightening form of life without remorse.
Everything else is unrequired.


I do not want a bone of song.
I no longer desire a midday loaded with light.
Beneath a country of moist leaves,
I seek transformation, like you,
to outlive the skeleton of my death,
to be a raw and glistening nerve under the moon.


On a bitter leaf, I struggled from
a chrysalis of memory.
Everywhere, wings were blooming.

The White Bear

I’ve never met him

in his real,

silken, terrible presence,

not even in those


which they call zoos,

where they

display his sisters,

like plunder,

for the children

and the gawkers.


And if I were to meet him,

in that brief encounter

without coward-proof barriers,

it would be like

stepping into that

last living essentialness,


while he obeyed

his furious command.

And even then,

he is the blameless one.


While our cities

go on expanding

like ripples,

finally triumphant tsunamis,

his pure, magic land of mirrors,

the last unexplored

kingdom of childhood,

dwindles to perilous

ice scaffolds,

as in my dreams.


And although I’ve never met him,

I know,

as I sit at my ease

in this warm metropolis,

which burns scars

through the atmosphere,

that he is engaged

in his very last journey

and struggle.

His taut, exhausted body

swimming impossible distances

and failing eyes

that glance from

horizon to abandoned horizon,

pursuing us all.


He is the pure stain on the white land.

He is the indomitable spirit

that loves this life,

that dwells in me too

and in the destroyers.

When the white bear and the ice

have gone beyond the

crown of the earth, trailing the aurora,

what pure dreams

will the child have left?


Copyright 2014 Ricky Barrow