When Eyes Are on Me
by Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa

I am a scrappy old lion
who’s wandered into a Christian square
quavering with centuries of forged bells.
The cobblestones make my feet ache.

I walk big-shouldered, my head raised
proudly. I smell the blood of a king.
The citizens can only see a minotaur in a maze.
I know more than a lion should know.

My roar goes back to the Serengeti,
to when a savannah was craggy ice,
but now it only frightens pigeons from a city stoop.
They believe they know my brain’s contours & grammar.

Don’t ask me how I know the signs engraved
on a sundial, the secret icons behind a gaze.
I wish their crimes hadn’t followed me here.
I can hear their applause in the dusty citadel.

I know what it took to master the serpent
& wheel, the crossbow & spinal tap.
Once, I was a leopard beside a stone gate.
I am a riddle to be unraveled. I am not

& I am. When their eyes are on me
I become whatever is judged badly.
I circle the park. Hunger shapes
my keen sense of smell, a lifetime ahead.

They will follow my paw prints
till they’re lost in snow at dusk.
If I walk in circles, I hide from my shadow.
They plot stars to know where to find me.

I am a prodigal bird perched on the peak
of a guardhouse. I have a message
for Fate. The sunlight has shown me
the guns, & their beautiful sons are deadly.