C. J. Sage
A stealthy pride of lions
stalks the one who went too far
alone; about his grazing business
the buffalo moves on
but all the while looking back,
doe-eyed, behind himself.
Following his measured pace
his predators are slow and patient.
They hide in the savanna grass
and oh how low they crouch.
How they slide, as if battle
trained, on their bellies.
And when they come upon him
he doesn't seem surprised, though
he hoofs the ground and bellows,
though he shakes his head
side to side, when a young one
stows its claws into his rump.
Another pounces, rides his back,
another on his hind legs
takes him down. Does he know
it yet — his time is over? Denied
all dignity, their teeth inside his back,
he throws them off, he fights
his way into a nearby swamp
to lie and catch his breath, to wait.
Another stroke of hope: the herd
from which he'd strayed lines up
on the horizon, chides the cats
to back them off. The hunters go
a distance, and when they do
one buffalo strides into the water
to lick the victim's wounds,
the red tears, she kisses them — awhile.
The herd, with thrashing horns and spirit
heroic for a moment, decides now,
suddenly, we don't know why,
to retreat. They leave him in the swamp:
food for the determined, stupefied.
Slowly from the taller grass
an injured cub appears,
his bloody forepaw swollen
twice its normal size. Lost,
or hiding, in the marsh so long
still the mother recognizes him
but hesitates. He presses up,
she backs away; another lion
takes a swat and roars
her disapproval. He drops
his head. Ignoring him,
the group gets up and stately
moves away. The hoary elders'
rule must not be broken:
the weak deter the strong.
Folklore says that lions
are the guardians of gateways,
and cruel as well as royal,
saviors and destroyers.
This one will not pass through;
his wound will be his doom.
So close, only yards away,
the four more healthy lions
and bored, continue sunning.
The weary cub will roam
alone forever, though for him
forever's not too long a time.
For now he'll lick his throbbing paw,
remove what gore can be removed,
retreat again into the tallest
grass before the moon comes up,
his giant heart pressed deep into the floor.
C. J. Sage
. . . edits The National Poetry Review and teaches at Hartnell College. Sage’s poems have appeared and are forthcoming in Shenandoah, The
Antioch Review, The Threepenny Review, Black Warrior Review, The American Poetry Journal, Smartish Pace, 32 Poems, and many other magazines.
In Posse: Potentially, might be . . .