Cordelia likes to quote Shakespeare in arguments or “life defining” moments, and every now and then she’ll set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night just to look at the stars. 

Arnold is a “pacifist.” He doesn’t fight for or against anything. He just laughs and drives and nods his head at anything Cordelia says, and his round blue eyes gaze out the window like he’s a prisoner from underground who only gets to see sunshine once a year. 

These are my kidnappers. 

Cordelia and Arnold don’t believe that old ladies like Diana should have leopards living in her house, even though Jay and Stella, the ravens, told me that I had been born in a cage, and Diana bought me to keep me from living in a cage so I would get live in a very large house with a massive yard, running and catching the moles and forcing them to tell me something interesting in exchange for letting them go and wearing a diamond studded purple collar and drinking milk out of a porcelain dish. 

Cordelia turns around and grins at me. 

“Baby likes ‘The Time of My Life.’ don’t you? Yes, leave it on, Arnold.”  

Baby. That’s my name. That’s the best thing that Diana could conjure up when thinking of a word that would epitomize me. That’s also the name for an infant human. Adorable little creatures that smell good and are so lickable that you just want to carry them around in your mouth. But I learned that, even as a small leopard, opening my mouth around humans, especially infant humans, makes everyone get unnecessarily loud. 

Geoffrey, John’s Doberman, told me it’s because my kind normally have very dangerous instincts. He’s heard a lot about leopards from John and Cathy, who aren’t thrilled about the idea of John’s mother having one in her house. 

I like Geoffrey, but anytime John is around, he acts like something is stuck up his rear. It’s the act that “guard dogs” have to put on. Even his ears are fake. And he once had a tail, but the humans did something to make him “look the part.” I don’t think I would like my humans if they tried to do something like that to me, but dogs are strange.  

He told me that Diana thinks all of my ancestors living in cages has cured the wild streak in me, because “wild animals don’t know about all of the great things like Television and Good Morning America and Shakespeare like us cultured animals.” I don’t know how much of that is true, but I know that I don’t feel the same about Diana as Geoffrey feels about his humans. 

“What if Baby eats you while you sleep!”  

Diana had scoffed. I had also scoffed. I’d sooner eat a mole than that bag of loose skin. Or I’d eat Geoffrey. Or one of the ravens. But I never had to work for my food. I didn’t even have to jump on Gary like I had as a small leopard. He would just give me the food if I sat and waited. Actually, jumping on him makes him panic so badly that I might not get anything to eat. At first I had thought that an animal had to act excited to see a human feeding them to encourage them to do it again, but apparently that doesn’t apply to leopards. 

Humans, in theory, would be better to eat than other creatures. Because there’s hardly any hair on them, the skin would be more edible. In theory. But skin isn’t very good. It’s the blood that’s good. Cordelia and Arnold have yet to learn this, and I hope they learn this soon or else I will have to start acting up again. I do know that eating a human is very bad because it upsets other humans to the point of them wanting to kill you. Even if you have to kill a human to protect another human, you do not eat that human. 

Cordelia turns the radio up and starts singing along to another song from the movie Dirty Dancing. It seems like such a strange thing. Dancing. When I first saw humans flailing themselves around, I thought it similar to dancing weasels disorienting prey, but then they rub themselves all over each other and fling each other around, so I thought it was a mating ritual. No. Humans don’t use it for hunting or mating. They just like to flail around with music. 

Cordelia turns the music down but continues singing the song. She smiles at me, bobbing her head. She thinks I like it when she sings. 

When Arnold and Cordelia first kidnapped me, they acted so frenzied that they forgot to feed me for a while. I could smell the confusion and fear all blended with adrenaline, but this only annoyed me. Finally, I had to start acting up.  

I learned early on that humans dislike when you use the bathroom in undesignated places. They also dislike the act of marking one’s territory. I couldn’t let this slide, even in my old house, so I had to be crafty. But not when I want them to know something is wrong. Humans are bad at understanding unless I do something intentionally wrong. It’s not that they don’t want to understand. They just can’t. Like with this pair. Arnold had been extremely upset to find his newly marked vehicle, but it hadn’t been enough. So, I left.  

Humans are harmless. What could they harm me with? Their soft skin, flat teeth, or short nails? Unless they managed to slip a cage over me, I would be fine. I went off in search of other humans who could feed me. 

I found a house, it was smaller than my house, but I sat at the door. It was night, and since humans cannot smell, in the dark they are utterly useless. So I began scratching at the door. Nothing. Then I climbed to the roof to find a window of some sort. That’s when Cordelia had showed up. Her anxiety hit me in the face as strong as soured milk. 

I sat and watched her from the roof as she tried to call me down. Then, she began to sing. I was confounded and amused. So strange, even for humans. 

The lights in the house came on, and the man who opened the door was not happy. He and the others in the house thought she was “drunk” or “high” and used all sorts of terms like “trashy.” Attempting to explain that there was a leopard on their roof did not help things either. Poor woman. She should have given me food. 

They had made a call to the “police” and tried dragging her inside, but Arnold had showed up. Then I heard something terrifying that resembled a shriek and a whine. I remember having heard it once before, but I had been very small then. It made the hair on my back stand up. I jumped from the roof and raced Arnold and Cordelia back to their yellow, boxy shaped vehicle. They gave me food. A “hamburger.” It was disgusting, but I was hungry.  

Once back in my partially cloth, partially yellow sponge back seat, I began examining Arnold and Cordelia to discover what these new terms “trashy,” “drunk,” or “high” meant. Certainly, they don’t dress like Diana, John, Cathy, Martha, or Stewart – the only humans I’ve ever known. They speak somewhat differently, too. But they don’t seem like the type of humans who would cut Geoffrey’s ears or tail. 

Ever since that night, Cordelia believes that I enjoy hearing her sing. I don’t care for it, but Arnold does. I can tell by the way he bobs his head and glances at her frequently with a settled smile.  

He rarely speaks to me, and it’s usually only to say “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” And I agreed, because put in a corner, I would certainly find a way out. But he says this much too often for it to be for my sake. Almost every time, Cordelia will laugh, and he will look at her with a more excited smile than he usually wears. I think they would make good mates since humans, similar to ravens, like to have only one mate. But Cordelia doesn’t seem to think of him that way. Their smells of affection don’t add up.  

Humans are strange, even stranger than ravens. They don’t even talk about it. Even a raven will ask another raven to be his mate for life, and if she refuses, he moves on to find another.  

I’ve never cared to have a mate. Maybe if I ever encountered another leopard, but even then, I don’t think I would care very much about them. Well, maybe if we were always together I would. I would like to meet another leopard, but Arnold and Cordelia are taking me back to Diana. 

“Back to South Carolina, Baby! You ready to go home?” 

Apparently Diana was giving away a lot of money to whoever brought me back. It was strange thinking of myself as being stolen. I had always stayed because I’d wanted to. When Arthur and Cordelia had lured me into following them, it was because I had been curious. They smelled differently than the humans I was used to being around. Once inside the yellow vehicle with the adrenaline cooled and somewhat shifted from fear to contentment, Cordelia had exclaimed, “We’ve kidnapped a leopard, Arthur! Just let that sink in. A leopard!” 

That’s when I learned that to “kidnap” meant taking a leopard, maybe something else, away from its home. So, Cordelia and Arthur were my “kidnappers.” 

They then began to tell me that I belonged in “the wild,” and it was wrong for Diana to keep me on her massive property with her big house. The only reason I would want to go to “the wild” would be to see another leopard. They’d taken my jeweled collar off and told me I was free, probably thinking, like most humans, that I could not understand them. 

Soon they began asking each other how long it would take for “the old lady to put out a reward for returning her dangerous cat.” Then Cordelia would turn and scratch the bridge of my nose and tell me that I wasn’t dangerous. I was a “sweetheart.” I was Baby. 

They’d been so happy to learn about the reward. Their anxiety faded and intermingled with joy, and Cordelia sang more often. I was also relieved. I’d enjoyed watching the mountains turn into fields with long grass and other plants until the trees appeared. Not skimpy, weak trees, but massive glorious green trees that made my heart throb like there was something inside of me that just needed to run. They would let me out to climb and jump and play. I loved those trees, but I returned to them when I was hungry. I would give up my trees to keep from going hungry. That’s why my home is better than the trees or this moving, yellow box. 

I will be happy to be home to see my croaking Jay and Stella, my stern Geoffrey, my anxious Gary, my saggy Diana, and my porcelain bowl full of milk. 

Photo by Dustin Humes


The Chosen

The Chosen

His name is Eli Hoffman, and I have chosen him to be the hero. 

It was something I considered when he picked his sister daffodils after her bunny died. I wrote his name on my list and circled it when he chased off a fox who attacked the family’s chickens. However, it was when his father’s horse was bucking and kicked him down, and he got up anyway despite the broken ribs, that I opened my magic book and etched his prophecy in my blood. 

He will be the one to kill me. 

Of course, he is too young now. Only a child. Hair that shines like raven feathers in the sun and eyes that are as black and deep as ink pools. Eight-years-old. He won’t grow to be tall or exceptionally handsome. He’ll have to study hard with books, but he’ll learn the most by scratching down others’ stories and struggling to train himself. There’s not an ounce of magic in his bones, but he has grit and fire in his blood. 

He’s hardly the description of a knight who will one day slay the dragon, but maybe that is why I like him. 

Even now, he follows me towards the river. 

Eli wraps his hand around my wrinkled fingers. 

“Almost there, Auntie.” 

We walk past the city gates and down the forest trail. It is dusk, and wolf howls echo into the sky. Eli’s grip on my hand tightens.  

“Perhaps we should go back.” 

“No, child. We are almost to the river.” 

Before we can reach the banks, a wolf with luminous yellow eyes leaps in front of us. Eli screams. 

“Run child!” I cry, releasing his hand as the wolf sinks its teeth into my arm. Crimson blood falls to the forest floor. Eli is motionless, dumbfounded for a few seconds. The wolf growls and claws at my neck as Eli picks up a stick and tosses it at the beast, tears streaming down his face. 

The wolf rushes towards him, a black shadow of mangled fur, baring sharp teeth as yellow as the harvest moon. 

“Run!” I call out again, more weakly this time. Eli finally turns and flees. 

We watch him disappear down the forest path. The setting sun casts a red glow on the leaves. 

I peel back the skin on my arms, revealing my scales. The ancient wolf sits down beside me. His once arrogant head is bent low, and his eyes are dull with weariness. He does not even glance at the human flesh and blood I’ve shed beside him. 

“You know, he will kill you too,” I say. “You will die before me.”  

Eli would return as a young man to take vengeance for the death of Auntie Luka. Even now, he mourns his cowardice, though none blame him. He is only a child.  

The wolf blinks as if to disclose his indifference.  

I laugh. 

“I am tired too, old friend.” 

In ten years, Eli will return for the wolf, where he will almost lose an eye and receive a signature scar from his ear to chest. In another eight years, he will face the ancient bear of the north and the lion of the west. It will take another twenty years before he is ready to face me. 

I close my eyes and see myself dying. My scales fade and fall away, and my vision grows dim. Eli stands over me with a sword, once held defiantly against my chest, now fallen slack in his hand. A sad expression lines his face as he watches me bleed out. 

I will take many forms in Eli’s future: his departed mother, a beggar, a lost woman in the woods, an apothecary, and his lover. It is likely that I will lose my shapeshifting powers at my death, but I cannot be sure.  

His expression haunts me. What will he see me as when I die? 

I rise up to leave, and the wolf lays his head down on his paws and closes his eyes. He too longs for rest, to sleep beneath the soft brown earth, to forget time and forgive life. To finally be at peace. 

The wolf yawns and lets out a whining sound. He will try to rest, but he cannot sleep. None of us can sleep. 

The monsters of old, as they call us, once tried to rid the world of humans. We thought they were dangerous. But now, we want nothing more than to return to the earth who once summoned us to slay them.  

Mankind as a whole may be cancerous, but each individual is… peculiar. And their numbers grow so quickly. There will be no ridding the world of humans, so we will leave them to their devices and hope that they will not destroy what we have long watched over. 

My old friend opens a lazy eye towards me. He knows as well as I that we cannot simply lay down and die. If we are to leave the world to the humans, some of them must rise up to prove themselves. We will only depart at the hands of one bold enough to face us, and capable enough to defeat us in at least some of our might.  

It seems the humans are content to leave us weary and purposeless. They do not see the necessity to have a leader, to be brave, or to rid the earth of us, even as they take our land and suffer our wrath. So, I have chosen one from among them. Perhaps it is us ancient creatures who need a hero. Someone to finally give us peace. And we will have it, soon enough. 

He just needs a little more work. 

Photo by Ricardo Cruz  


A Child’s Life

A Child’s Life

(A Hejinian poem I wrote about childhood while at university.)

I was at the table. High, dangling legs, looking at biscuits. The sun colored the room yellow. Her smile was wrinkled and bent. That was happiness. We went onto the swing. Back and forth, back and forth. The sky turned dark blue, and the stars swam. We ran over the fields. The roof was falling in, and the sides were no longer red. We jumped the hay then over the fence. My cousin laughed when he fell. I carried a stick because coyotes and kicking cows. We swayed at the creek then jumped. It was brown and red because the stones weren’t blue, and the water was clear. We climbed the fallen tree. Dangling legs. The grass below danced. It felt like Christmas. 

There were eyes always watching. We held our ears to the wall then ran outside. We always ducked or froze when a car whizzed by. Statues and mannequins made me think of sadness. We were always very still when we went to a funeral. I touched my great aunt’s cold, bloodless hand. We ran and ran, and I loved to swing. The sky was my friend. I loved when he was blue. My mother angrily shouted for me to get out of the tree. My father never bought us toys because we could die. I never got my bow and arrows or pocket knife. We traveled the world through pictures and the porch swing. We’d put our legs up, and my cousin pulled the lever. We would arrive in a different world where the roses had souls and dogs could speak but chose not to. 

I always mixed the buttermilk with the flour too quickly, but she would give me her wrinkled smile. Clocks confused me, and I watched clouds form castles and animals from my bed of leaves. My sister loved to sing and put on blue makeup. We secretly climbed the mountain until we craved chocolate drizzled ice cream. We threw the cow rib across the road into the ditch. The limbs caught our hair as we ran up the steps. My biscuits always turned out too brown, but we colored them in honey. Molasses made my jaws hurt. 

My father always came home late. I used to chase my cat then put her in a cage then let her go and feed her. The sun would turn pink. We could never swim because it rained enough to fill a swimming pool. I watched raindrops race and imagined tracing them, but my fingers were too greasy. Windows were a portal, and I saw myself riding a horse down the sidewalk with wind blowing through our hair. Then we arrived at school, and every smile hid a frown. 

Photo by Senjuti Kundu  




(Prologue from a story I hope to soon publish.)

It was the same memory that popped up in his head over and over again, sometimes without warning. It was a memory he could not allow himself to forget. His father, eyes pale like melted silver and stature as tall and big as a tree, knelt way down to his height and put his hands on his shoulders. 

“Son, I’m going to go.” His voice was low and gruff, always sounding like storms in the distance. “You don’t need a coward for a father.” 

He hadn’t known what that meant. His father stood upright, now as tall as the sky, and stepped away, his white-hot eyes still staring, burning their place into his memory. 

Those had been the last words his father had ever said to him. 

This memory was all he had left. 

It was a memory she thought would long fade away through the years, but it was still here, fresh and tender as the moment it happened, even though the rest of her mind and body were beginning to fail. 

The mother had been beautiful, a gleaming light in a part of the world that was quickly growing darker. She had warned the mother to be careful, that two were enough, that these two had nearly killed her, but here they were for the third time. 

The mother, still beautiful even as her soul was in departing, reached up to touch the small, shrieking pink thing the maid now clasped in her arms. A smile emerged on the mother’s pretty lips. Tears emerged in her emerald eyes when she touched her baby’s head. 

She did not have to live. This daughter would take all of her vitality, beauty and kindness. The child would grow up to live a full life in her place, and so, the life left the mother’s body though her face remained content. 

The father, eyes wide in horror and pain, turned his gaze to the baby. He did not feel the same. 

Photo by Josipa Juras