Jaguar Variations


A canary went into the coal mine
and a jaguar came out. The scientists responsible
for the experiment said
Let's send more canaries; we have so many,
but someone stepped forward to answer:
No, this jaguar is the only one.

It's easy to imagine a jaguar
when the full moon shines
behind a screen of broken clouds
and edges them with silver.
Nothing else is moving
and there's light enough to see
the way the spine arcs
from between the shoulder blades
to where the tail begins, plus the easy
give and take of weight
between the left foot and the right
as the animal steps forward
before he turns away,
the question of identity as one
answered only as the fleeting
knowledge of its prey.

Many heard about them, while few
have ever seen
jaguars, so it was left
to cameras to prove they are real. A movement
trips the shutter, and those who say
taking a photograph draws away the soul
see evidence they are right
in the way a flash makes fire
of the eye it is reflecting from.

Jaguars once made a home in darkness
all the way to the canyon so wide and deep
even they could not cross. They moved
without a sound, and disappeared.
                                             Years passed.
The people who moved in
to live where they used to
believe the name refers to a car
much admired for its speed, and those
who own one say their lives
would be impoverished should Jaguars
cease to exist.

Floating among unruffled stars,
the jaguar's face on a shallow pool.

Many centuries have passed
since a carver made the image
of a jaguar in stone. During this time
rain has fallen and lichens have grown
across the dormant torso. The trees grew tall
around it, as other jaguars passed
on their way deeper
into the nights,
                     on the darkest of which
any body whose soul had been taken by surprise
was placed for them to cleanse. The scraping
of tooth against bone
in those days preempted a prayer.

A jaguar in a tree, body draped along a branch
strong enough to hold him, cheek pressed
against flaking bark, and eyes
slowed down to the pace of rest,
has melted into position
with one front leg hanging
and a twitch at the tip of his tail
while he inhabits this moment
with comfort lining his pelt as he cleans
a tooth on a juniper snag.

Night settles around the jaguar
the way a cloak of stars
would enfold
a saint whose deeds are legend
but whose face
                        has been shown
only to a chosen few.

Nobody sees what the jaguar sees,
neither the water nor the grass
that parts when he runs
with the breath warm and heavy inside
his lungs, and concentration
burning in his eyes.
                          Nobody knows
how it feels to break out
from mythology and tear a piece
from the world to satisfy an appetite
the feeding of which requires
all the space civilization left unused.

Where they lived in the rain
jaguars were believed
to move from the earth- to the spirit-world
as easily as from day
into night.
             In dry canyons and desert,
they have only one world
and a wall not even their spirits
can cross.

In the forest where a jaguar was,
clouds have descended
to obscure the vines connecting
sky and soil, the humidity swelling in the leaves,
the ferns and sodden earth
                                    into which
the tracks sink deeper
after every storm.

Desert shades into forested slopes
and canyons, where a jaguar waits
for the sun to go down before making
his way along a dry stream bed, where he
relishes his solitude,
                           having no way to know
in the moon's stony light
how close he is to being
the last one of his kind.
     David Chorlton 2014