Panther: (“Painter” as it’s pronounced here.)
Climbing a knob without light
Is slow going at best. The woods
At night is full of sudden holes, jagged
Rocks – slashes of catbrier rip your
Legs and trip. The timber rattler and
Copperhead are uncoiled from hiding
Place and bite the blunder on their path.
The slope is strewn with random sharp-
edged karst of unguessable shapes, darkened
with moss to invisible barricade. Thickets
of face stripping withes lash and impede
every step, and the sides of these old hills
From the ridge above the creek, looking out, as oer
A sea of humping waves, an owl’s eye could see
A solitary speck of flickering red, embedded in the distant trees,
A tiny old fire, and the shadow of Pete.
The black branches weave
A red-grazed dome above his wooly head,
Gazing slack-eyed and intent in
salamander flames that crawl the deep red
crevice of the coals.
The Owl extends his neck to expand
The gristle accordion in his throat, clacks
His beak and gives forth
A croaking downward slope of pitch
That curls off in a muffled cry. Latched
With tiny hook-feet on the black-thatched
Boles, katydids and all their kin chant the heat
with ratcheting scrapes
Of ridged plates tucked beneath their chitin wings.
Outside the firelight
Cracks and creaks, paw steps, slithers,
whippoorwills, and a far off, quickly
terminated shriek -
Do not disturb the gaze
Of hunkered Pete, still as
A stump, listening
To each signal in the night, things
Drawn to the fire, and those that retreat,
Tones in a tune that bind the edge of sleep
And open unlit pathways in his dream.
He treads the hillside in a panther slink,
Eyes unglittered by the starlight gleam -
Barely tethered to
The being left behind, the deeper
Joy crouched down to leap.