i. my first dream of memory— a siberian tiger so large, his cage could almost not contain him. i sat outside, reached my young hands in through steel bars to comfort my mate, now captured, a trophy. his pale orange and black coat pricked my fingers like blades of dry lemongrass, his claws splayed like weapons i wished were mine. tossed about his cage, blighted apples— food of another flesh. in the dream, throngs of adults line the perimeter brandishing wooden rods cut from apple trees, their gaping mouths screeching. but what i hear is only chatter. what i see are only fearful, hapless imprints who watch me struggle to widen the bars. incapable—and sad at my littleness— i reached in, cradled his jaw between my small palms. he spoke to me for what seemed hours, yet all i remember is his parting admonition: not the apple, but the seed. ii. all through my thirties, i had the same dream: a siberian tiger, three times the size of any man, being dragged down a rushing river, his neck squeezed by jute ropes, his body shackled by steel chains, his teeth and tongue, blood-soaked— the incessant gnawing to set himself free. throngs of men surrounded him, struggling to tow their trophy. they chattered like squirrels. i, incapable of understanding, am there, hidden as always in willow trees i’d seeded years ago, crouched. ready. each time, at the precise moment, i descend to free him. and always, i am three times surprised: at my movement—not a pounce, but a glide, at my weapons—not the spikes of a tiger, but the aciculate claws of a raptor, at my power—not in brute strength, but in merciful precision. and always i awake conflicted, having mistaken myself for a felid, when i was instead a falcon.
Nancy Chen Long works at Indiana University and lives with her woodsman husband and blue-eyed dog in a small cedar cabin in the forested hills of south-central Indiana. She holds an MFA, MBA, and Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering Technology. You’ll find her recent and forthcoming work in RHINO, The Louisville Review, Roanoke Review, Noctua Review, and Adanna Literary Journal. She blogs at nancychenlong.blogspot.com and does poetry-book reviews and interviews at Poetry Matters.
When asked what sharp thing she would be, she replied, “Let me be a laser beam. Though it be an obvious thing, I like it none the less.”
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