Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ghost Cat

It is estimated that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 snow leopards left on earth. Prized and poached for their beautiful coats, they survive in some of the planet's most challenging terrain. Due to deforestation and dam projects, they have suffered a signficant loss of their natural habitat and food sources. In countries where they live, such as Pakistan and India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, armed conflicts have further imperiled the cats, with a disregard for species preservation among the fighters and the flourishing of an illegal fur trade.

Snow leopards, also called "Ghost Cats", can hiss, growl, wail and chuff, but unlike other large cats, they cannot roar. I met this shy creature in a dream, and the poem below is in honor of its arduous and endangered existence, and its historical associations with the gods. 

For Snow Leopard/Honoring a Dream                                                     

From the crest of the god’s head,
you traverse the craggy ancient spines
of the Rock People.
Vertebrae by vertebrae
you carry down the sky.
Its frigid white breath tears through the air
like rapacious fangs
and howls at the impassive, stony faces
that bear the brunt of its fury,
with you,
the sole and silent witness
to its brutality.

Your green eyes blaze
with inner light but offer no warmth.
There is none to be found
in this timeless, unyielding

Here, survival is a story
of wits and of will,
of stealth and of strength,
where hunger and beauty can kill you
as readily as any man.
Dreamy crystalline blankets
yield to one-way trap doors beneath
the novice foot,
and the lies we tell ourselves
to carry on
are sheer as the ice that freezes closed
our frightened eyes.

The spirits of this land
seem cruel
and harsher than they need be.
Or perhaps safe passage
before their steely gaze
requires each soul to speak its truth
deep into their brittle bones:
How much do you want your life?

Ghost Cat,
you alone know the razor’s edge
where land meets sky
amid the blinding haze,
where antlers mark the graves
of those who offered or renounced themselves
to you.

Down from the mountains you came,
the hunter and the hunted,
survivor and survivalist,
earth-bound immortal,
nearly extinguished by our greed.
You met me in the East
in a humid summer dream, 
with a dare
to journey North,
to follow into unknown terrain
your mysteries cloaked by snow,
made treacherous by ice
and marauders
that might drive me from the trail.

My fierce and exacting guide,
your patience is as thin
as the arctic air,
your mercy as scarce
as easy prey.

I struggle to gain purchase
in your sure-footed wake,
to trust that I am held
when I cannot see the path,
or hear the approach
of what will feed me next,
when I cannot smell the fire
that draws me
toward an indecipherable horizon.

Met only with your stoic silence,
I stifle the tormented cries
I yearn to hurl
against the shrieking wind.
Your coveted coat
reminds me
how to walk with shadow
when daylight deceives,
when reason fails and I have no use
for words.

I am imperfect and I am afraid,
but I am willing.

Ghost Cat,
teach me perseverance and courage,
to ascend to the heights you know by heart,
unbound from illusion,
to converse with the gods
by way of the earth.


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