“The Big Cats” is an ongoing poetry cycle written and read by Val Vinokur, and published weekly at Public Seminar. For more, read Part I, Part II, Part IIIPart IV, Part V, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, and Part X.



It was the tiger who spoke first.
“Today’s lesson will be Latin:
sincerus —
without-wax — whence
your word sincere. When sculptors
completed statuary for sale, they would
fill with wax the holes that had emerged
in marble. Which wax would darken
and fall away long after the buyer
had brought the figure home.”

On Memorial Day weekend
the park was sunlit green and clean
forgot about the virus — mylar balloons,
masks off, baby showers, outdoor weddings
ten rows deep. Freedom for the free,

and the next day, footage of a knee

            pressing on a neck, at leisure, like the most
            natural thing in the world, the nape
            a perfect cradle for a kneecap resting.

Come and see the tigers lick us with their rough
indifferent tongues as our wax darkens,
falls away and we are left sincere, unwaxed,
our marble bleached and full of pocks and pits
like statues toppled into shallow water.

Did the knee know the mother now dead
who made the neck in her living womb (made
without fear, nothing the like upon the earth)
who stitched it to the base of the skull
with such care, down to the supple spine
bristling with tendrils of touch and alarm,
who made the thinking fingers of a child,
the soft full lips of a son offering his final
words to her? “I can’t move mama mama
I can’t I can’t I’m through I’m through…”

Val Vinokur teaches literature and translation at The New School and is the founding editor of Poets & Traitors Press.

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