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 Wires

I do not know how the others can take it.
Every day, the sky that pretends to return,
the awful houses that hurl deathly flowers to the pavement,
the things that outlive us,

the poles and the wires that were already here long before us,
that glower on every street corner
like grandfathers disapproving of our fashion.

I do not know how they put up with
smiles on girls, dynasties of red lipstick sinking beneath parking lots,
rusted trolleys silently leading tramps
down dingy lanes that want only to die from an assault of lice,

the brains of rats that go off like grenades in fashionable cafes,
and of course the birds,
the pigeons that reek of ammonia, watching us,
while we pretend not to notice an offspring of dust
that collects behind our genitals and ruins our best laid plans.

We, who pretend to know equations of infinity,
perfect roses, poems of love and heroic laughter.
But the heart of the matter is this:
we live in the worn-out grooves that dead tycoons,

hideous philanthropists, and insects of lust once left for us.
There are dogs that play on a wreckage of beach
with a new owner every day.
There are couples that follow each other off the same old piers,
into the same green sea, that is neither sad nor alive,

and a sky that returns and returns and returns.
I do not know how the others tolerate
these corners piled with assassinated leaves.


The streets go on expanding into holes in the night,
the waists of women become horizons of ruin,
and a mouth with a soured tongue
that fingers a land burning with the scent of animals,
consumes the innocent roots.

A tongue that invades the quiet thighs of lovers and dead storms,
that smothers deserts wounded with oil,
and dwells in vineyards of dry teeth.
A tongue that drips globs of lime in black seas where rain forests die,
where flowers, afflicted with flame, crawl from the trees,
to bury their faces in the soil forever.

Tongue, like a parallel sky, sleeps with a catatonic girl,
whose belly is a globe of burning ants,
whose eyes are sockets of broken rain.
Beyond the wreckage of my feast, a cicada, dark, like a warship, abides.
In its eye is a mouth with a flavour of ashes that outlives me.
And I taste, in the sweetest orange, in the ripened dawn,
a bitter pip, a murdered branch.


The little creatures
hare, mouse, beetle, man,
who leap and burrow
and exhaust their urgent hearts
in a handful of clutched seasons,

never take much notice
of these great beasts from another planet,
a former earth,
who set geological time
with their slow, creaking strides.

Long ago, it seems,
the trees, the dark rocks,
the cliffs of a gargantuan epoch
rose up, left the cramped soil,

became stones possessed by wanderlust,
and pulverized Jurassic forests
into scorched savannahs
beneath legendary journeys.

And still, miraculously, they migrate,
as if those petty, biting forces
that gnaw like sand at the stubborn bergs,
the fierce birds of prey, the schemes of men,

and reduce them to grovelling stone,
could not assault these bastions
of unhinged, colossal nature.

Herds of lumbering strata,
trunks that boom the
deep hoopla of madcap life,
dust storms kicked up by stampedes

that blind red Saharas
and spawn unharnessed hurricanes
for blighted Zanzibars.
What can you teach me of myself,
behemoths of the granite prairies?

To be something completely one
with its own grey blood?
To possess myself and my herd
in the deep wrinkles of my hide,
where I count and shelter each member?

To be mighty,
that things may tremble at my approach,
may heed me,
yet dangerous in what is essential,
never capable of cracking the earth
beyond regeneration.

You, great beasts,
stubbornly stride into centuries
that have no more use of you,
and how much we need

your vast and thirsty savannahs,
your strange, untethered soul
that never knew the harness of Pharaoh,
perhaps we are only now just learning.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

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