Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
The panther

                     quick-footed

and poor-visioned,

 

sumatran rhinos

      (unless raising young calf)

prefer

                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

 

 

red-brown,

       two-horned-majestic,

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 Saturday Paper’s poet laureate, and the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.