He flattens his haunches deep
into the brown leaves,
invisible under the ferns
on the cool forest floor.
It is inescapably clear
he’s here-his yellow eye
marks every step I take.
I carried my thirty-eight
for six months after I caught
sight of him crossing the road
until I felt foolish and stopped.
Like the stealthy Bengal tiger,
driven by hunger, not rage,
he’s a merciful cat when he kills
with one spring from behind
and one bite to the neck.
Bengali woodcutters wear
a backward facing mask
which baffles the tiger’s spring
while the woodcutter walks to safety
praying and trembling-the tiger,
impotent, stalking behind him.
I’m resigned to the reign of the cat.
He allows my trek through these woods
with provisional forbearance
but I shake in his real presence,
wait for him to learn
my desperate masquerade
and walk with a double face,
the one in front that ignores him,
that pokes my way through the trees,
and the one facing back that sees.