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The Snow Leopard

by Robert O’Connor

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III. The Cabin

My guide appeared, a harpy pale,
Intent to show my heart my soul.
I saw corruption on a veil
Wherein I might infer the toll
To bring me back within the pale
Of those not damned by wantonness,
Of those not cursed by loveless life.

I thought to turn my eyes away
But could not make my mind obey
And in my will’s demeaning rout
Saw cankered, ripe, a scabrous snout
And, fixed below, a grinning pout
With all my visage scarred and pocked.

“Your mother, maddened ten years past,
Died in doubt she bore a son.
Your father’s end comes on apace.
He bears his pain to wish you grace
And see you in your native place.
Two others hate within that space;
Two others bleed for your disgrace.
The cottage held beneath the snow,
Go find it where the blizzards grow.
Go find it where you left them pent.
I will allow no tears’ lament
But grant, as compass to your feet,
My flight as strict as arrow fleet.”

I had no time to gather up
The objects few I prized.
The ivory head of her who led,
The hand that paced the racing sled,
The roan who bore the giddy sleigh
So drew us through the snow
I had no consciousness of leagues
But felt the constant blizzards blow.

The fields of white in blinding light
Unmarked by any track
Were flanked by ruined palaces
With nothing round each wrack.
No paw nor hoof nor human print
Had marred the smooth expanse
As on we flew to lands I knew
In dread of what might chance.

It was a darkling scene I saw
When I, at last, was sure
The silhouette against the sky
The roof and chimney were.
Interred beneath a mounded mass,
The cabin beams just barely bore;
I knew the windows by the light
But could not see the door.

As darkness took the world away
The windows glowed more bright
And as we reached my home of yore,
The stallion ceased its flight.
The horse, the harpy, sled, and gear
Did in a whirlwind disappear.

I played sleek ermine on my knees
To seek the buried latch.
I played the bear to shoulder back
The hinged cold oaken hatch.

The table set
As for a fete,
No soul in the brightest room,
The Yule ablaze,
No one to raise
A wassail fending doom.
I knew not what fate sought of me
But saw a further room.

I entered. There my father lay
As though in a log-lined tomb.
I touched his head, and sure the dead
Drew back its lips to pray.
No word it spoke
But in its look
I read a fearful past.
No word I heard
But sure its face
Smiled like a frightful mask.

I fled within
And there again
I found my lifeless kin.
Two nephews blessed,
Two sons I guessed
Of him, my murdered twin,
Whose body crossed
Their bodies tossed
As though two butchered swine.

One entrance more,
I swung the door
And there she was within.
Her face the earth’s most beautiful,
Her buried life my sin.
Upon the smoothest palm I knew
God ever to create,
There lay a dagger wet with blood
And in her eyes such hate
That not those murders barely past
Could serve to calm or sate.
The dagger’s blade toward my heart,
The hilt within her hand,
My shame so dark a fact I knew
I could not flee her clear intent
And must endure the act.

“What, here my dear?
So many a year
Your poisoned pledges died.
How comes it now
You dare to show
Your body in my den?
I was bereft of pride and kin
By your one theft and flight.
I dropped the hope of all but bread
And drew a devil’s straw instead,
And won your brother’s bridal bed.
A tender coward brought disgrace;
A gallant brute assumed his place.
He was a master torturer.
I met him blow for blow.
Not his the sons
But yours I slew
And added him
To raise the pyre
And this one perfect thrust I add
Before I end in fire.”

I felt the blade invade my breast
And touch, but barely pierce, my heart
And darkness, all bereft of rest,
Became my hopeless part.

Proceed to part IV...

Copyright © 2015 by Robert O’Connor

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