The Leopard

She feels the shape of another animal
three trees ahead & raises her left front paw.
Dew trembles on each blade of grass
as a snake uncoils among the leaves.
She’s a goddess in a world mastered
by repetition & unearthly cadence,
pacing off light hidden in darkness.
She eases down her right paw,
slow as coming to an answer
of the oldest unspoken question.
The prey lifts its sluggish head,
listening for a falling star,
a river running over stones,
& then returns to the hare
half-eaten beside a blooming hedge.
A hundred doors spring open.
A raised paw descends skillfully,
softly. The grass rises behind her.
The mitigated laws of kingdom,
district, & tribe do not matter here.
She crouches down inside her
longing, one great leap away
from a wild, simple knowledge.
Sinew, muscle, gratitude—she—
& then to ride another animal
down to growl, tussle, gristle,
& blood-lit veins on leaves left
quivering in the passing night.

From Night Animals (Sarabande Books, 2020) by Yusef Komunyakaa; illustrated by Rachel Bliss. Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the poet.