The Cheetah

by Caroline M. Richards



We will be more than its witness
when the world has turned
over its final stone. How
it was alone as we watched,
behind the glass, so close
it was almost one of us, it was
almost part of the crowd.
For now it listens, we can tell
by the ears which twitch
and pull; when it pauses
to a hunter’s stillness,
we wonder what it hears.
A lacquered plaque dictates
it once crouched for hours
on beaten turf for food.
It knew the extent of itself
when it rose to give chase:
long clusters of muscle
unwinding, hip bone and shoulder
snapping to pivot, to detach
from the ground in an instant
as it leans into light. We’ll know
then, too. We’ll stare and seem to tilt
towards its body, as if to understand
every form it must bear. While
roller coasters roar overhead.
There is Christmas music
singing from the park speakers,
there are millions of strollers
and straws in our mouths. Yes,
we’ll remember it was open to the sky,
the seventy meter stretch
of Saharan plain littered with real
grass and rock. The cat inside
had grooves on the pads of its feet
for traction when the terrain
flattened to sand, and real
orange eyes to see great distances
in the dark under ancient stars.
We’ll look before it and see each other,
holograms in the glass walls we built,
and find what was worth keeping.

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