Looking for the Tigers / Mark Bromberg

Philadelphia in a windy March. 

The hometown boy, now 60 in suede jacket and cap, 
throws his aching shoulders toward the wind and walks 
his old boxer walk down older streets: Kater to 20th, 
then South Street past familiar accents, sidewalks of broken brick, 
the windows advertising hillal chicken and watch repair. 

He points out the landmarks he knows too well. 
That way is McGillins if we should stop in for a pint. 
Down Arch Street is Chinatown and the cherry blossoms. 
Now he sees them every day disappearing in glaucoma. 
We're on our way to the natural history museum 

with its dinosaurs and butterflies, 
a world grown large enough to see 
everything big, close up, behind glass or suspended above us. 
A desert tiger behind a rock is ready to pounce
on deer who are suddenly alert. 

Inside the man-made spaces it's a world in control 
unlike the wild lights and city streets outside,  
the corner carts selling cheese steaks and gyros, 
open cellar grates that lie in wait for uncertain footing 
and a misplaced step. Watch for bicycles. 

We're old college friends from thirty or more years ago. 
Me with cerebral palsy watching my step 
at every turn in an unfamiliar city in winter wind. 
At busy intersections I feel his hand on my back. 
On cold marble steps he asks if I'm ready to try. 

I test my balance slowly, one step at a time 
He's got my right hand firmly in his left while 
we walk down talking about our younger selves. 
He reminds me I once made a pass at him in college. 
I laugh at the memory and still remember the snow, 

his flannel jacket, and how warm I imagined he'd be 
to lay next to in another winter season. 
I thank him for not beating me up then. 
Now we're just two old friends both on vacation 
stumbling through a museum each in our peculiar gait. 

We fumble over menus in restaurants, look for misplaced glasses, 
and talk about sex like old partners reunited, 
as if we're finally seeing the entire world behind glass, 
now big enough to see at last like a museum display. 
We walk 40 blocks in an afternoon, 

two friends talking about poets and reading and art. 
Back at home he sinks into an easy chair. 
The boxer's body that was once his own 
now belongs to shots and aches and doctor bills. 
I wear his old slippers to keep off the March chill. 

We both walk slower these days but with more purpose: 
we're looking for the tigers who will pounce on us both 
like unsuspecting prey alert behind museum glass. They're waiting. 
We each tell ourselves we're ready for them all, the beasts 
we know we'll never see coming around the corner of day.

No comments: