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The Snow Leopard

by Robert O’Connor

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I. The Cave

I had not found me such a track,
Blood spoor in perfect spot and streak,
In all my years of rifle slung
And snowshoes wandering over dune
That smooths crevasses far too deep
For light to peek and life to keep.

The blood the only color there
Upon the snow, so pearly hued,
And two clear sets of prints beside,
A human and a leopard hied
Where neither ought by right have been.
Drops wound the avalanche’s edge
And streaks the fathomless abyss,
Yet fresh the spoor at every ledge,
Then, sudden, gone adown amiss
To slip a cranny’s lip too frail
Descending, surely, straight to Dis.

I fixed my ladder to the crust
And flung the treads to darkest space
So downward climbing all apace
Came to a bossed cavern wide
To follow with the torch I bore
The last faint spots of blood on ice
Until in one more shaft beside
I hung the torch and saw the pair.
I could not tell if they had died
Just as they fell or, crushed, did abide
Until death’s mercy sought them there.

It was a long ten years before
I traced again the bright red spoor,
Of which time had not touched a trace.
But now the aid to sound the space,
Men, ropes and scaffolds, pulley, winch,
I brought to the brink of the sorry trench
Wherein the dead were hide and bone,
Paired mummies in a shining tomb,
Each by the other mauled and maimed,
Each as though comfort, too, the aim,
Limb wrapped in limb, their bodies bound
Breast to pale breast in sad embrace.
So do I swear by God’s good grace.

Pooled blood beneath still soaked the snow
And dyed the ice a gem-bright red,
But how old blood could be so fresh,
And how dead leather, claws, and pads
Could cut bold prints of such a mold
We none could fathom who them bore
Up from the ancient glacier’s floor,
Nor how they came so locked and twined
In loving hate or hateful love.
Yet so we deemed who saw them so.

I place these that no bone be moved
Exactly as we found the trove
But how the riddle be unbent
Is not within my scope to know:
How all did speed and how relent
And what it might or not have meant.

Proceed to part II...

Copyright © 2015 by Robert O’Connor

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