For my daughter

When the tigers come, you might drive and drive, inhaling hits of smoke from the mouths of homeless men, pulling long muumuus from garbage cans, rolling your own cigarettes from tobacco tins. When the tigers come, you might crush all your Simon & Garfunkel albums and stop taking showers. You might throw away your fun girl who used to sing at dinner. When the tigers come, you might believe they stretch their long tiger­-bodies across every patio over­ hang. You might look for them over your shoulder. You might hold your breath as you try to pass. When the tigers come, you might run naked, believing that if you’ve rid yourself of every last rem­ nant, they’ll have nothing to take from you anymore. Once the tigers have come, everything will begin to look like tiger: the class­ room, your dope, the small way you believe you can go to Reed College, your love of whales—the total. I want to tell you that when the tigers come, meet tiger with tiger. I want you to learn the tiger­-growl, the tiger­-smell. I want to teach you to stalk like a tiger. I want to make a tiger mask for the back of your head so the tigers won’t attack from behind. I want to tell you that the tigers will be­ come gentle. But the tigers aren’t gentle. You can only open your tiny broken life. You can crack open the back door when the rain starts. You can come down into the wild fennel, into this long stretch of time—these days like little pieces, the smell of sage, the way wind moves through anyone’s hair. When the tigers come, you can only meet them as you meet every single morning. You start so early. You look like tiger looks, eyes fixed on each moment— you’ve always called me back here, to the sound of your own sing­ing, your hand pulling me into the yard, back from all the ways I teach you to run from tiger, but tiger is right here, all along, with tiger­-breath, tiger­-whiskers, and up close the sound is not a growl, the sound is all animal and the tiger can sense us, and you’re ready, I can see that now, you always have been. 

Copyright © 2017 Kim Young. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.