Big Cats at the Zoo

Just twelve years old, I braved the building’s reek
for animals that made my stomach weak.

Panthera leo boomed its bass, profound
wind howling over hollows in the ground
during a Serengeti thundershower,
its drumhead form too soft now to devour
victims, fight Heracles in Nemea
or die Christ-like in saving Narnia.

Panthera onca’s tongue abraded white
bone fragments. Smears of darkness on daylight,
rosettes engulfed its coat as if warm rain
fell while it oversaw a god’s domain
from Machu Picchu to the Yucatán.

Panthera tigris gaped a toothy yawn
and groomed its fur, a shade-streaked conflagration
of jungle foliage. My imagination
perceived one crouching hidden past each door,
but this one’s concrete den could only bore.

A black Panthera pardus paced, eyes sparking
toward its spotted species-mate, whose marking
was finger-painted — just so — on its pelt.
The first, Bagheera prowling, must have felt
like silky ink run dry across the forest.

I stumbled out, a nauseated tourist
who saw the cats were, like the fecal smells,
half held by, half escaping from their cells.

Steven D. Schroeder

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