Maxine Beneba Clarke
The panther


and poor-visioned,


sumatran rhinos

      (unless raising young calf)


                to live alone


in solitary ease,

                   and singing their shadow



in the secluded pockets

of dense mountain forest, or wallowing

                  in wild lowland swamp



nosing sweet fallen-fruit chew,

         or sniffing for salt lick,

and munching

                           on soft sapling shrub



they clod soil, and tread foliage:

                  fling wastage to mark


of their presence



                                       lest we walk near




the last of their kind,

                  in the order perissodactyla,



in the country of malaysia



died last week



                     in captivity





of the phylum chordata,



and woke the first poem

that ever burrowed my skin




titled the panther,

by rainer maria rilke




                   it was utterly destroying,

at only twelve lines long:




afternoon light

through my childhood window,


on the mottled pages

            of the hardback book




as the powerful animal

keened, and paced



all sinew, tethered power



      and desperation





and i remember the line

           (there is always a line)

i remember the line


                                     that felled me




it seems to him there are

a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world

Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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