Atavistic’s too grand. We need a word whose definition
includes mean and cruel, desensitised and deluded
to describe ourselves. We pay money and our time
to witness publicly the mutilation
and public execution of a lion.
We applaud the undeniable bravery of one man
who stands alone as we would, we like to imagine,
implacable against the King of Beasts.
Down in the arena the spectacle looks grand:
the King of Beasts confronted by One Man.
It would be no contest were the man unarmed
or were the lion allowed to let the human go
or were, and here’s the rub, the lion not maimed.
We let words and bugle music sear our souls
and blind our staring eyes to what goes on
before us. We look down from our safe seats.
We are thrilled, we tell each other. The primal fight!
Man faces the great carnivore and wins!
Lions can leap and rend — we search for words
to connect us to our thrill at others’ danger.
As if we were one people with one goal.
It is simple here to let ourselves believe.
Out in the centre on the shining sand
the lion, head down and bleeding, sees the man
approaching with a red cape and a sword.
An hour before, a specially hard trained horse
had kicked out the lion’s teeth while it was chained.
Then “we” (our servants) remotely loosed the chains
and we ourselves watched the lion disembowel
the horse with rakings of its fearsome claws.
“Brave stallion,” we said. We, aficionados,
sharing culture-honed responses for each act,
mean that the horse died without crying out.
We don’t know, or we pretend we don’t, that “we”
months earlier had cut out the stallion’s tongue.
The lion is caught by cables cast from trucks.
Spread eagled. Extended weapons pull its claws
out. The lion roars. Bugle music plays.
Applause. Short intermission. “We” revive the lion
with electric shocks. “We” drive the trucks away.
The lion stands or tries to. We try — to applaud.
We watch each other. Who’s not one of us?
The man, our hero, shudders. kills the lion.