The Bear Remembers
Poems by Roger Dunsmore ©1990
From THE BEAR REMEMBERS, from the "Afterword": In the Bengali Room of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, a tiger skin hangs upside down above the tile fireplace. Its green-glass eyes are blank, and one tooth is missing from the middle of its lower jaw. The waiter took a picture of a young couple standing in front of it. It was her birthday. He told us there was a room just like this one in Singapore. I thought of a wildlife film we had judged two years ago: of an unemployed, urbanized tribal man showing the filmmaker the realities of tiger poaching in Sumatra, where tigers may be extinct by now. Since it is not legal for citizens to own guns in Indonesia, the poachers make them for themselves, and dismantle and hide them when not in use. The hollow steering column of a junked car is the barrel, empty tooth paste tubes, melted down, are the lead, and the heads of many matches, the powder. The female tiger, one of the last, is caught in a snare, her right front paw. As the man stands to shoot point blank with his homemade gun, she stops struggling. She knows. He takes aim very carefully, so as not to spoil the skin, and blows her away, this unemployed, urbanized tribal man. She will be skinned, her skin will be smuggled out of the country, to Singapore, where it will be prepared for the international trade. When the tigers are all gone, what will he do to make money? These memories of the tiger poaching film have a certain insistence. Part of that is the vestige of self-reliance and ingenuity of the poacher in creating his own gun from our trash. A larger part, I hope, lies in the moment of the tiger's death. I could feel everyone in the room bracing themselves for that moment as it approached, and when it came it was worse than we'd expected. Partly it was the tiger's knowledge, and the way she seemed to prepare herself to receive that death, even though I do not consider it appropriate for any of us to speak for her state of mind at that moment. Part of the reality, too, is that the snare in which the tiger is caught is a very wide snare indeed. It entangles the poacher to be sure, and the filmmaker, and us viewer-judges, as well as other traffickers and buyers of old/new tiger skins. It even encompasses young couples having their picture taken on her birthday in the Bengali Room in the Empress in Victoria. When I looked into the green-glass eyes of the tiger hung upside down above the mantle in that room, really looked into them, close up, I saw nothing. Or rather, I saw what those eyes were--cheap glass marbles colored green, empty of even the fire that still burns in the eyes of my twenty-year -old house cat on his hearth pillow. I looked in and there was nothing to see--nothing looking back, only a weak illusion of an eye. What would looking deeply into the eyes of a wild tiger actually be like? Under what true circumstance might that be possible, and be in the best interest of the tiger? Or are its eyes not for us, at least not in any way that we readily imagine? What deep night of forests must we be willing to enter, what giving over of ourselves, in order to actually see into the fire burning towards us from those most alive eyes? Surely, if god has eyes, they have in them the fire of the tiger, as well as the gentleness of the doe. Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnance was thy brain? Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?