Beast in the Apartment

I found the lion in my living room
curled on the carpet, licking his red claws,
and he looked up, haloed with fur,
a bloom of blood around his smile,
and yawned his jaws so wide
I saw between his great black lips
my world in all its flaming symmetry,
the corona of cities, people tithing to war ships
that rip the blue sky-fabric of the sea,
falling towers and those trapped underneath,
the trillion suns like sparkles
on his tongue, each planet crushed
like a mint between his teeth.

I won’t say this was a dream.
How could it be? I felt the hot rubber
of his lips, the tongue’s wet slubber,
the sirocco of his breath steaming my face
as I gripped those jaws and wrestled
in a whirl with the dumb beast.

I won’t claim this was a vision.
It was the lion for real this time,
the beast whose hunched muscle
I’d always sensed in the dark apartment,
whom I’d known only by long scribbles
of yellow hair left on the couch,
and the shadow paws that push me
down into the bed at night.
Now here he was, upright beast
playing claw-piano on my back
and letting out a bomb blast roar
as we knocked lamps to the floor and danced.

At last, he rolled on his side and gazed
from carnivorous amber eyes
as if to say, “Stroke me, I won’t attack.”
“Simba,” I said, and lost my hands
inside the nimbus of his mane,
and then I felt my way down
to his haunches, combed his hide,
the reddened prairie of his wheatgrass pelt
until it seemed it was my own body streaking
like yellow lightning across the veldt,
and I felt the slender springbok neck
between my teeth, pulsing, and bellowed
with all the joyous pain of being
soiled with lion funk, rank and dancing,
a fifty year old man in a lion suit.

I won’t say this is true, but it’s true 
when I come home the frizzy neighborly 
lap cats leave off from chasing squirrels, 
snuffle up to me like kittens,
and though this lion with sinews that stretch 
like symbols into the infinite and the carnal
will curl up and go to sleep again
will go back to being a paper lion, 
unreal but leaving remembrances 
coiled yellow on my carpets, 
I still feel his oven breath, the arc lamps 
of his eyes, and feel the great paw at night
pushing me down into the shadow cave 
where the rest of my self 
breathes asleep, never to be known, 
never to be born for real.

From Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2014 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.