Poem: Pascale Petit

Jaguar Girl

Her gaze is tipped with curare,

her face farouche
from the kids’ asylum

where ice baths
failed to tame her.

Her claws are crescent moons
sharpened on lightning.

She swims through the star-splinters
of a mirror

and emerges snarling –
my were-Mama.

She’s a rainforest
in a straitjacket.

Where she leaps
the sky comes alive, unleashed
from its bottle.

My mother, trying to conceal
her lithium tremor

as she carries the Amazon
on her back,

her rosettes of rivers
and oxbow lakes,

her clouds of chattering caciques,
hyacinth macaws –

her flocks of archangels.

Her own tongue is a hive
that stings

yet pollinates
all the orchids of the forest.

Her ears prick
to the growl of roots

under concrete,
the purr of plants growing.

My Animal Mother,
shaman’s bitch,

a highway bulldozed
through her brain,

into a trembling rabbit
whenever I’m scared of her.

She who has had electric eels
pressed to her scalp

can vanish into backwoods
where no one can reach her.

I’m trying to sew her
back together,

to make a patchwork
of gold dust
and ghost vines,

a sylvan pelt
of torn down trees,

the shadow dance
of leaves on litter.

I’m trying to conjure her
in her zoo cage

as the doctor comes
running to dart her.
First published in Ploughshares (Spring 2015), edited by Neil Astley. Poem from Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017).

Pascale Petit’s sixth collection, Fauverie, was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize and won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize. Her fifth collection, What the Water Gave Me: Poems After Frida Kahlo, was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year, and was a Book of the Year in The Observer. Pascale has had three collections chosen as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, The Independent and The Observer. She is the recipient of a Cholmondeley Award and was chair of the judging panel for the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize.

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