Karl Kirchwey

The Tiger | Friendship  
July 8, 2015 Kirchwey Karl

The Tiger


In a tourist magazine about the amusements of Rome,
I saw a photograph of a tiger in the zoo,
head-on, glaring, as tigers are said to do,
and last night, just before waking, I had a dream:

the tiger-headed god of poetry came to me
as I lay prone, almost afraid to look;
but I knew him from somewhere, I knew him from a book,
my book, and he smiled, he behaved gently,

a gentleman, in fact, in a dark suit,
surrounded by the adepts any god has,
this rippling, fire-colored prince in evening clothes,
by the other lounging felines of his cohort,

not like the tiger I once had from my brother,
figured in a carpet he sent from India:
when I unrolled it, after three  years away,
it was infested with moths and webbed over,

the luxurious and vibrant dorsal sprawl
that once had seemed almost to burn underfoot
now swarming with worms, become something corrupt
that crumbled in my fingers to an unclean rubble;

but last night I flushed with sudden love, as has happened
when I truly understand, out of submission
or mastery or something in between,
and I rose to dance with that gorgeous thing in my mind,

its savage murmur in the throat, its restless weave
and switching tail, its constant streaming pace,
violence contained and strength in such excess,
by which I know I am truly alive.





A last Roman dawn
glazes the windows,
like the isinglass
of his incomprehension.
Never to know someone,
in spite of many tries—

The cool odor
before the morning’s heat,
of crushed herbs, mint,
dust and water;
the fountain’s clatter
not awakened yet;

the new day
a faint blush in the east:
these things I know at least,
and how profoundly
the Palazzo Farnese
and its triple arch are lost

in darkness still,
while the towers of Trinità dei Monti,
are lit, slender and gray,
on the Pincian Hill,
and in the middle
distance, the Chiesa Nuova

offers its massive pediment
—like a geometer’s proof
of how he stood aloof,
always, from my intent,
protecting the integument
of a vulnerable self,

a sacred perimeter, really,
he would let no one cross,
behind which his ideas
kept him always company,
a golden empery,
a beautiful fastness.

I waited so long with
that leopard-colored gaze,
and carefully parsed replies
from that smiling mouth,
as if the slightest breath
intended more or less.

The Messaggero sign
glowed blue all night,
and yet I never got
the message, if there was one.
I waited alone,
and now it is too late.

The lantern on the dome
of Sant’Andrea will gather
light in its vessel of alabaster:
come, morning come.
It is time for me to go home.
Lead, heavenly light of my failure.

Karl Kirchwey is the author of seven books of poems. His eighth, Good Apothecary, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2025. Sections of his ongoing long poem Mutabor have appeared in journals since 2011. He teaches in the MFA programs in Creative Writing and in Literary Translation at Boston University.