The Richard Basehart Issue


Wendy Barker

While Rereading Rilke's "The Panther"


All I see from my hotel window: rows and

           rows of windows, doors, grids upon grids,

                       towers of grids, and I feel trapped, not like Rilke's

panther, or an inmate behind bars, or even

           a parakeet in a cage, wings clipped, a tiny

                       plastic trapeze to provide a speck of entertainment,

and not like Tara Houska, thrown into

           a "temporary holding cell" for protesting

                       the Dakota Access Pipeline—after all, I'm here

by choice, free to walk out into breezes,

           pounding rain or gusts of wind, but all

                       around, above, ahead: hard edges, and I want out,

away from these lines and squares, these

           rectangles. My muscles ache for rounded

                       shapes, for leaves that flitter, for spirals, fern fronds,

pine cones, shells, feather grass and

           petals, water lilies, ranunculus, honeysuckle,

                       wisteria. When did our species fall in love with shapes

composed of four right angles? Horns

           of wild sheep are spiralled, as well as those

                       of Highland Rams, Kudu—even our domesticated

goats have curving horns. And human

           bones: the femur is composed of spirals,

                       like the cochlea of our ears, the umbilical cord,

 arteries leaving our hearts. A panther's

           whiskers curl, like its incisors, and caged,

                       it prowls in tight circles, though wild, it's free to swirl

among shrubs and grasses. The way

           life arcs, twists, whorls, not like a mortared

                       pile of bricks someone can smash, tumble. In

the 1900's, Navajo hogans—rounded

           sacred spaces, pioneers of energy efficiency—

                       were replaced by government funded squares. Fair

and square? Yet I know my life would

           screech to a halt without rectangles or right

                       angles: my laptop, my file folders, books, and these

pages where Rilke's poem appears.