Mary Mackey

Painted Tigers

overhead a great snake of stars
is coiling and uncoiling like boiling water
while beneath the river   the ghost trees
sleep like abandoned dogs 

when you come here blind and mute
to dream beside this forgotten shore
when your eyes are too heavy with remorse
to see inward  your lips too dry with lies
to form words and your brain filled with
everything you have abandoned
the painted tigers will stalk you on soft pads  
admiring the vulnerability of your neck
the tenderness of your flesh
marveling at the way you walk along these paths
never looking back
as if the jungle were yours
as if an animal without teeth or claws
could survive in this place where even the smallest
insect is death’s messenger

how gently they will put their muzzles to your mouth
how quickly suck out your breath
how ecstatically breathe in your dreams
the last thing you will feel
will be the softness of their fur 
the quick joy of their teeth