“Dancer? Panther?” by Maureen Teresa McCarthy

There are no cougars here
On this high ridge
Between narrow lakes
Not now, in this modern year
They’ve gone
Those sleek black cats
Lean and lithe
The panther, the cougar
The wild has been tamed
But I know what I know
And I saw one once
Not long ago

I was walking
The edge of the forest
After spring snow
Huge maples, matriarch trees
Stretched bare limbs to the road
Underfoot, the crunch of icy white
Looking up, a soft gray sky
And then, a living eye

An enormous cat, big as the average dog
Spread long overarching limb
Pointed ears, unblinking stare
A sharp feline face
Framed in black fur
Hanging down, a long thin tail
Making a perfect arc
As it swung back and forth
Marking time a metronome

My dog my lovely Shepard
Friend of fifteen years
Growled low and pulled me back
As a scream rent the air
Echoing into the silence
Fading into the forest

Later that same spring
In the first flush of new green
I walked in the city
Under trees wearing pale mist
Looking up into towering clouds
Far ahead, a woman proud

She strode out from a doorway
Poised, strong, lean, lithe
As a black cat, maybe a panther.
From her shoulders swung
A black cape lined in red
Over a slim black dress
She wore her steel gray hair
Sleek and tight
In a smooth chignon
Silver earrings dripped from her ears
A silver collar framed her neck

She flowed, easily as a cat
Into an open black car lined in red.
The engine purred and she was gone
Into the forest of city streets

As in a dream
Both faded away
The dancer and the panther
Leaving only the wonder
Under the spring sky
Which one
Is the dream of the wild?

Maureen Teresa McCarthy has published poems and essays in Bloom Later, Comstock Review, Months to Years, Pen Woman, Plum Tree Tavern, Tiny Seed, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and others. Her work focuses on nature, imagination, and myth. She has lived and written in California, Europe, and Mexico, but is at home in the Finger Lakes of central New York.

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