Ode to the Black Panther

It happened 31 years ago,
I can’t forget it,
in Singapore, the rain
hot like blood
on the ancient white walls
half-eaten by the dampness
that left
leprous kisses on them.
The dark crowd
suddenly glowed
in a flash of lightning,
baring teeth
or eyes
and the steel-like sun
was an implacable sword
in the sky.

I stumbled through flooded streets,
the red Betel nuts
lifting themselves
the beds of fragrant leaves
and the Dorian fruit
rotted away
in the sultry afternoon.

All of a sudden
I faced a stare
coming out of a cage
in the middle of a street,
two icy circles,
two magnets,
two enemy currents,
two eyes
that penetrated my eyes
and nailed me to the earth
and to the leprous wall.

I then saw
the rippling body
and it was
a trace of velvet
flexing perfectly,
darkest night.

Under her black fur
brushed with dust
flashed topaz rhombuses,
or gold hexagons—
I’m not sure which—!
whenever her thin presence moved.

The thinking
in a box
in the middle
of a filthy street.
Out of the jungle
far away from lies,
the stolen spaces,
the bittersweet odor
of humans
and their dust-filled houses
she alone
through her gem-like
her disgust,
her burning hatred,
and those eyes
that closed
a door to the wilderness.

She paced back and forth
like fire and like smoke,
and when she closed her eyes
she became invisible
distant unembraceable night.


[Translated from the Spanish by David Unger]


Pablo Neruda(1904-1973) was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.

David Unger is a prize-winning translator, novelist, and poet. His novel Life in the Damn Tropics was published in 2002 by Syracuse University Press.

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