DREAM, TIGER by Nancy Chen Long

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
not the apple, but the seed.

          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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