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Frayed now, tongue-worn, the legend tells
that my parents — young and expecting me —
walked beneath drizzle, nests, blood-sprays of berries,
breath-clouds mushrooming as they plotted their future,
when the woods convulsed with a pitiless roar
and thicket shook with the rage of a dark engine,
of dragons, of demons; of hunger made meat.
They ran all the way back to their bungalow.
A week later she heard the growl on radio:
If you hear this sound, beware.
It is a panther about to attack…

As a small girl, I poured over theories:
big cats as escapees from menageries,
Victorian travelling circuses, prehistory, death…
I found a picture: Melanistic Leopard,
the eye like a chalk-pit or toad spawn,
teeth the sour colour of lambswool in the jaw.
And at dusk I sensed them out there; other —
the Beasts of Bolton, Bodmin, the Fen Tiger —
nuzzling a deer’s bowels, careful as burglars.

In this city, now, I had forgotten them
in the scuffle of commonplace violence:
the friend beaten for a bike, his eye
popped out like a tiny moon; the needle-tracked
crackwhores smearing dung on our stair-well;
the lean dark men in hoods who may have guns.
But tonight, as I swallowed some small rejection,
I found myself willing it true:
longing caught in my throat for a panther’s leap into view,
like the opposite of disappointment.