“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 IIPart III, Part IVPart VPart VI, Part VIII, Part IX, and Part X.



The tigers sing: We never
ate your parents. So what
if we ate your parents.
They were no angels
and neither are you.

It takes oxygen to talk,
and carbon to listen,
and helium to fly,
and hydrogen to burn, baby,
and lithium to level,
and chlorine to clean you
from the inside out
and strontium to cancel bone,
and cadmium to turn
everybody timorous.

The elements conspire and tempt
our pride to free them from the ground —
elements erupting like stern virtues
and sulfurous pyroclasts,
a meet unhappy conversation
that makes enemies of friends
and barbarians of neighbors.

The elements conspire and leave us
— solitary, blind, and groping —
between pit and pendulum,
between the darkling nothing —
a stiff and airless cackled maw —
and the inexorable blade that wants
to cut our bonds and
                        cleave our heart.

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