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A Different Tiger

A Somewhat Less Cosmic Tiger Than the One Created by Borges

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a number of spectacular poems based on tigers he had viewed at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Leave it to his friend, poet Silvina Ocampo, to provide an altogether different picture. Appropriately, the title is:

 
A Tiger Speaks

 

I who move like water
sinuously
like water I know
shameful secrets.
I heard that there are dog cemeteries,
with earnest inscriptions
commemorating human friendship,
and that there are horses so stupid
they kneel before their masters,
oxen who are slaves to farmworkers,
cats who are ornaments for ladies,
like a hat or a fan,
bears who dance to the sound of a tambourine
from a man or a dwarf woman,
monkeys who flatter their owners,
elephants whom the public degrades,
abject seals who gargle
to entertain the children,
cows who let themselves be dragged along, mistreated,
who give their milk to anybody,
trained sheep
who donate their wool
to make clothing or mattresses,
snakes who caress
the head and neck of madmen.

We never managed to agree
about man’s true nature,
some fools think
perhaps in gratitude
for those who deified us
in other times
that man is a god,
but I and certain of my friends and enemies
think that he is edible.
The edible man
is always shy and trembling,
without claws and hair or with very little hair;
the man-god distributes food
with his hands, so I’ve been told,
he has a whip in his tongue and in his eyes.
In olden days, when he took up his position in the arena,
or in the desert, he wore a halo
or carried a magic wand,
he had a long mane
like a lion’s, which tangles in the teeth.
All this disturbs me:
sometimes I dream
of a rug whose coat
resembles mine, and I cry
stretched out on my own skin.
It’s strange. Inconceivable.
But there are stranger things:
Don't birds exist
who pass the time singing,
ridiculous doves, and an infinite series of fish
and beetles I’m unaware of
but which bother me?
Isn't there a poet who thinks about me constantly,
who believes that in my skin are signs revealing
man’s destiny drawn by God
in a poem?

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