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from the May 2017 issue

Life with a Tiger

Never mind how it got here.
If the previous tenant left it behind thoughtlessly or on purpose,
if it sneaked in through a window while we weren’t looking,
if, maybe, the neighbor who hates our vinyl collection put it here to fuck us over
or was it maybe the man in the blue overalls
who comes monthly to check
the water, the gas, the electricity meters.

I’ve consulted my favorite thinkers: Wittgenstein, Cioran, Steiner,
but they have no answers.
All I know is there is a tiger in our midst.

Even when days pass without a sighting
we no longer voice the hope that he might be gone,
like we used to,
because we know he’ll return and he does, he does.

A tiger is not a cat, so it’s hard to know
if his lives have run out at last.

Often the mere thought of him out there can make it hard to leave the bed.

The tiger should have awakened our desire to hunt, but… nope.

So many siblings we were yet we aren’t all here now,
but, can we blame the tiger?
There was always a fight just before
each one of them left forever but,
we couldn’t be sure of his guilt,
even though it can be handy sometimes
to have a tiger at home
to pin the blame on.

Late for work, we tell ourselves: it’s all because of the tiger.

Sometimes it’s true, others… not really.

Clocks run slow when you live with a tiger,
it seems so early that, suddenly, you realize, it’s very late.

It’s never as early as you think.

It seems impossible that a tiger, with such paws,
could move the hands of a clock.

It’s a grandiose statement but it’s true: tigers can stop time.

Maybe we didn’t interpret the signs correctly:
the food missing from the fridge, the wardrobes in a mess,
all the torn-up clothes.

You have to be watchful with a tiger in your midst.

He’s not a tiger cub anymore,
although maybe he was younger once.
Did he grow up with us? Was he an adult tiger from the start?
Maybe he isn’t just one tiger? Maybe there are two? Three, you say?
We can never be certain; it’s a mystery.
At home, we never agree,
because we have rarely seen all of him:
sometimes he is only a vague presence behind us,
something that breathes, something that stinks:
he spies on us when we party,
he scrutinizes our dreams,
he’s jealous of our laughter,
our tears intrigue him, he wonders what causes them.
We turn our heads to just catch a glimpse of his tail                                                            all velvety sneaking away.

Paw prints on the carpet,
wild roars,
creaking wooden floors,
little trails, practically invisible,
signs that he’s still there.

I hear the experts on the radio:
the tiger this, the tiger that, the tiger blah blah blah…
And I tell myself: “You wouldn’t say that
if you had a tiger at home.”

We taught our youngest to walk very soon
because we worried the tiger wouldn’t take kindly to
seeing someone else
walk on all fours.

Hardly anyone comes to visit when you live with a tiger.

Often we forget that we have a tiger with us,
we forget him for days until, damn,
he is suddenly right there
one thoroughly uneventful day:
let’s say a Wednesday, let’s say in the Fall,
let’s say on our way back from work,
tired, whistling.

Some tigers are noble, you say?

Tigers are tigers. I’d hesitate to say much else.

This isn’t government housing but we shelter a tiger here all the same.

We’ve thought about it: sell the house, say nothing to the buyer,
open all doors, wait for him to leave,
open all faucets, get the hell out.
All possibilities have crossed our minds but, you know what, in the end,
we just got used to living with this tiger.

Can love for a tiger happen, and then grow?
It can happen and it can grow, but a tiger is a tiger,
he’ll never lose his stripes.

Is he male or female? Is he fifty years old?
Fifteen? Seventy-two? Five hundred?
After dinner, while we munch on the few walnuts he didn’t eat,
we ponder the tiger’s age, quietly:
Has he aged at all? Did he get softer, or sharper instead?
Could it all be a lie?
Could he, maybe, be a devil wearing
a tiger’s mask?

I would like to write clearly and concisely on the tiger’s oblique stripes.
I look at people in the street and dare not ask:
Do you live with a tiger? Tell me the truth: doesn’t everyone?
Isn’t Gash the name of the nation we all live in?
Isn’t it true, what they say, that all men and women are alike?

I live with a tiger and, honestly,
I don’t know
I’d make sense of life
without one now.


"tigre batekin bizi" © Harkaitz Cano. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Amaia Abantxo. All rights reserved.

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