The Panther, The Jaguar, The Cheetah
by J. A. Tyler
Three cages in a row, all small and with branches or big chunks of trees, tree limbs. The cats, these cats, all three of them are pacing, they love to pace. They are always moving. Sometimes my dad says it’s close to feeding time, when they pace like that, like this. He says THEY WANT MEAT and I laugh and smile and say too YEAH. THEY WANT MEAT. And my dad asks me DO YOU LIKE MEAT? And I laugh again and say YEP. I LOVE MEAT. I’M A CAT. My dad grills, out on our back porch, he grills burgers and sometimes steaks and those are good days, the days he grills, the burgers, the steaks. Those are days my dad smiles, those are good days.
DO THEY GRILL THEIR MEAT? I ask and my dad laughs then, like he does, like when he does and the wrinkles show up by his eyes and he says RAW. THEY EAT THEIR MEAT RAW. THEY LOVE IT THAT WAY. YUCK I say and we both keep watching them pace, these three cats, the panther the jaguar the cheetah.
I CAN RUN FASTER THAN A CHEETAH I tell my mom, watching that one pace and move. NO WAY she says. YES WAY I say, and then she laughs. All of us laughing. I love my mom’s laugh. My mom’s laugh makes me feel like even when it is cold outside, november december january cold, her laugh and smile make things melt. Warm. My mom’s laugh is warm. And sometimes I say things like that, like I can run faster than a cheetah, just to make her laugh, my mom. And this time it works, and I feel good, warm, and we are all laughing.
The cats keep moving. We keep watching, my hands in my pockets, my hands on the top of the railing, my dad and mom smiling.
We changed the oil once, in our van, my dad and me. I laid down on this board with wheels and he rolled me under the car, the van, and I watched the black run out like a river. THE PANTHER IS BLACK AS OIL I say and I can see my dad smiling even more, thinking about it, the oil, because he loves the oil. The oil to my dad is a panther, running. And I can see too that he is thinking about gears or cars, our van, engines, how all that is like this panther, a panther running in its cage.
SHINY I say and I’m talking about the oil and my dad and my mom’s smile and her laugh, these three cats in their cages, running, pacing. Us watching them and thinking about things, us all our different things. The black of oil and me going faster than a cheetah ever has and us laughing and being warm. Us thinking those things. Smiling. Watching caged cats move.
I want writing that envelopes, that flirts a reader through without telling or braying, asking on with imagery and compact moments. And yet how often I open a book or start reading a story and am hit with sentence after sentence of narrative explanation, back-story. A writer telling me where the characters came from and what has happened and what is going to happen. Spoon-feeding. Handing me everything all at once like I am robbing their literature, my own finger pointed as a gun. I am not a thief. I want to discover. I want to be wrapped in a breath. I want to see simple expanses of time rendered in beautiful language and rife with complex thought, meaning that is beneath it all, that is instead of laid out as tracks to an end, scattered across my path, me stepping over and constructing the story as I go. With, instead of behind the author. This is the kind of literature that I want to read and, more importantly, that I want to write. This is what I seek and, with all hope, what the reader will see in my work if I have done my job, if I have followed my instincts, if I have written from that place of fevered and pulsing language.
J. A. Tyler is founding editor of mud luscious and the author of SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE (ghost road press, 2009), IN LOVE WITH A GHOST (willows wept press, 2010), and INCONCEIVABLE WILSON (vox press, 2010) as well as the chapbooks OUR US & WE (greying ghost), ZOO: THE TROPIC HOUSE (sunnyoutside), EVERYONE IN THIS IS EITHER DYING OR WILL DIE OR IS THINKING OF DEATH (achilles), and THE GIRL IN THE BLACK SWEATER (trainwreck press).