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In 2001, on a research trip to Nepal, me and my girlfriend found ourselves with some spare time and decided to visit Chitwan National Park. Chitwan is one of the few places in the world where you can encounter wild tigers, sloth bears, elephants and rhino in their natural habitat. We expected the sort of safari experience that we’d seen on the television where you bounce along in the back of a jeep and catch glimpses of animals through the trees. Instead we ended up in the jungle, on foot, with bamboo sticks and a (hopefully experienced) guide as our only protection. The four hours that we spent in the jungle are seered into my memory.

The Tiger always lingers
Out of sight but always near
We may be forever hunted
But we cannot fall to fear

I hear the birds first
Then open my eyes
Light streams through
Curtains and mosquito nets

A few steps
From the door
Shrouded in mist
Trees rise into white

We go to the river
Climb into the shell
Of a tree and paddle
Slow into the Ganges

As the bank retreats
And we are alone
Beneath a dome
Of unknown sky

Dark shapes
On the edge of site
Scaly snouts and
Watching eyes

The world arrives
With a thud as we stop
Listen for a second
Rise from the boat

Take bamboo sticks
In our right hands
And walk into
The elephant grass

Ears fresh with purpose
Take in footsteps
And the creak, creak
Of restless branches

And then he speaks

If we meet a Rhino you must hide behind a tree
If we meet a sloth bear you must find your way to me
If we meet an Elephant there’ll be no place to run
And if we meet a Tiger then you’ll wish we had a gun

But we do not have a gun
And we would not fire it here
Among all these wild things
Wild monkeys, wild dear

Wild longing to be free
Wild dreams that we might see
A wild Tiger roaming freely
And that Tiger she might see me

And for a moment I could feel
Just how fear is meant to feel
When I look into her eyes
While she’s looking at her meal

Why are we here in this place?
On a search for teeth and claws
When we all have these fears to face
In the face of nature’s laws

We tiptoe
Slowly forward
All is quiet
But the birds

Hearts pounding
Senses sharpened
In the absence
Of our words

Our cars and phones and dishwashers
And bright computer screens
Our fierce roaring engines
And growling cash machines

A world for now forgotten
A thousand miles from here
Unable to protect me
From the Tiger coming near

Prowling silent
Through the brush
Following
the scent of us

We sit to rest, we take out
our sandwiches and munch
Them. Unaware that we’re
About to become someone else’s lunch, then

A roar like brilliant thunder
Stops the beating of my heart
As the Tiger pounces on it’s prey
And rips it’s throat apart

And it’s not me, it isn’t us
I can’t see it but it’s near
I can hear it yards away
As I try to quell the fear

As the deer that has been felled
Lets out a final guttural cry
And falls silently from life
All is quiet when we die

The Tiger always lingers
Out of sight but always near
We may be forever hunted
But we cannot fall to fear

The Tiger always lingers
In the shadows, always near
Reminding me to use my time
Before it disappears

#thetiger #spokenword #poetry

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