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I am a scrappy old lion

who’s wandered into a Christian square

quavering with centuries of forged bells.

The cobblestones make my feet ache.

I walk big-shouldered, my head raised

proudly. I smell the blood of a king.

The citizens can only see a minotaur in a maze.

I know more than a lion should know.

My roar goes back to the Serengeti,

to when a savannah was craggy ice,

but now it only frightens pigeons from a city stoop.

They believe they know my brain’s contours & grammar.

Don’t ask me how I know the signs engraved

on a sundial, the secret icons behind a gaze.

I wish their crimes hadn’t followed me here.

I can hear their applause in the dusty citadel.

I know what it took to master the serpent

& wheel, the crossbow & spinal tap.

Once, I was a leopard beside a stone gate.

I am a riddle to be unraveled. I am not

& I am. When their eyes are on me

I become whatever is judged badly.

I circle the park. Hunger shapes

my keen sense of smell, a lifetime ahead.

They will follow my paw prints

till they’re lost in snow at dusk.

If I walk in circles, I hide from my shadow.

They plot stars to know where to find me.

I am a prodigal bird perched on the peak

of a guardhouse. I have a message

for Fate. The sunlight has shown me

the guns, & their beautiful sons are deadly.

When Eyes Are on Me

Yusef Komunyakaa

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