if only because they are beautiful

I remember standing before the monitor

in the small room with windows for walls

reading a message on the black screen

with white type, somewhere between

programming language and visual copy

4,000 tigers remain in the wild

4,000 left near the close of a century

that began with about 100,000

Nothing else, no images.

A black background, white symbols.

I do not remember if I wept then and there.

I do remember opening the door to walk

out of the glass room into the lobby

and then another door to the sidewalk

where I was struck by a bustle of students

on their way, somewhere.

Much like the time after

I watched Schindler’s List alone

curled up in the soft seat of the old theater.


the world had not changed

to meet the other one

so real

as in alive and vanishing.

In the classroom we would study

the unspoken world

that can be read on flyers in black and white

at the petition table

in the mall where people pass by

on their way somewhere.

And the sorrow that shatters glass walls, twisting

metal frames, stops at the throat

where it is reserved for pet euthanasia.

Buddy passed on the steel table

while I rubbed his forehead

as I sobbed, after I’d given the veterinarian

a page with letters and numbers

in black on white

a wild story of loss

the domestic goes without knowing

until the story is seen.

For days I greeted buddy as I entered

the quiet house,

stopped stopping myself from calling, until

I stopped calling.

In the morning and the evening

what really hurts is having no one

to talk with

so the bachelor from Appalachian coal country

is befriended by feral cats who walk with him

through the woods.

And with each one’s passing, he lets out a wail

like mine for the wild that grows lonely.

Because I do not know what it means to be hungry

among big cats

I love them if only because they are beautiful

and beauty is what I grieve with my fingers

tracing the scars on the face of a West African king

one left

of 250 and going


note: If Only Because They Are Beautiful was written February 2014 during a month's witness with big cats. Tiger stats are from 1996.  West African lion stats are from 2014. The poem is voiced in this short film that features some of Bryan Holland's paintings.