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
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
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.