Ode to the black panther

- Pablo Neruda (Translated from the Spanish by David Unger)

It happened 31 years ago,

I can’t forget it,

in Singapore, the rain

falling

hot like blood

on the ancient white walls

half-eaten by the dampness

that left

leprous kisses on them.

The dark crowd

suddenly glowed

in a flash of lightning,

baring teeth

or eyes

and the steel-like sun

was an implacable sword

in the sky.

I stumbled through flooded streets,

the red Betel nuts

lifting themselves

above

the beds of fragrant leaves

and the Dorian fruit

rotted away

in the sultry afternoon.

All of a sudden

I faced a stare

coming out of a cage

in the middle of a street,

two icy circles,

two magnets,

two enemy currents,

two eyes

that penetrated my eyes

and nailed me to the earth

and to the leprous wall.

I then saw

the rippling body

and it was

a trace of velvet

flexing perfectly,

darkest night.

Under her black fur

brushed with dust

flashed topaz rhombuses,

or gold hexagons—

I’m not sure which—!

whenever her thin presence moved.

The thinking

throbbing

panther

was

only

a

savage

queen

in a box

in the middle

of a filthy street.

Out of the jungle

far away from lies,

the stolen spaces,

the bittersweet odor

of humans

and their dust-filled houses

she alone

expressed

through her gem-like

eyes

her disgust,

her burning hatred,

and those eyes

were

two

unbreakable

seals

that closed

until

eternity

a door to the wilderness.

She paced back and forth

like fire and like smoke,

and when she closed her eyes

she became invisible

distant unembraceable night.