How to Kill a Tiger

by Annie Cao

                                The sky reddening like an unbruised body—

          and you,          gone for days now, calcified
in this unshed nightmare where the tiger
          is closing its teeth over your wrist again,
                   dozens of rabbit carcasses littering the halls again,

                   tiger slipping quiet through the nights,
mattress blood-heavy and the bedroom splintering,
              the mirrors washed red, the pillows full of twigs,
the pawprints varnishing dinner plates,

                                        tiger thrashing in the softness of your mind,
              scarlet nails uncovering orifice, devouring
gentler beasts and pretty things,
                            tiger that won’t retreat until the hunt
leaves you on your knees—the house ablaze
              behind you, your hands bleeding and hungry in the dirt,
searching for solace.

                   And everything’s gone swollen in your mouth:
                        flecks of copper at the bathtub floor, the smaller animals
                            you chew up like medicine. The world turned unfeeling,

                         astringent             like the way a girl washes ashore
                                     with her heels worn to the bone,
                         the mothers bent double over their children
             lying empty in the street. You want

                                  to feel blood again;           romantic you once were,
                                                 you pack every aperture with wildflowers
                         and chase after carnivorous birds, let them tear away
             at sapless skin. You cut off your fingers

                                                 and cast them into the wind:
             send them adrift towards drowned seedlings,
                                     towards the blackbirds
                         that weep at daybreak,             the mountain
                                     that has forgotten its name.            One day,

                                     you try to swallow the ocean,
             but tumble head-first into the many mouths
                         of your own terror—unwavering in honesty,
             the moon peels the water from its shores
      and undresses your fear of everything.

                         And so, blue-lipped and quivering,
you pick the sharpest knives from the kitchen drawer
             and keep them in your jewelry box,
metal against metal like a snare. Suck the blood

                         from your wounds each night
             and let it thaw on your tongue                         like a prayer.
                         Huntress in bedlam, you track the tiger through
             darkness and pin it to bathroom tile, sharpen a blade

                         against the sound of your screams
             until the bleeding wrists,
                         the body dangling before starving teeth
                                   become antiquities,
                         until the memory of your pain fades into the distance:

                                   the fires in your bedroom window
                                            waning against the skyline,

                                                  burning in echo of a self-inflicted disaster.