Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

The Martyr’s Cell

by Donald Levering

++++++Zahir once took the form of a tiger—Borges

He’d never renounce his faith
to gain release.

Without complaint of moldy meals
or sweltering cell, his sole request

his jailers finally granted—
colored paints and brushes.

Other inmates said he had confessed
no desire to escape.

Yet they heard him perseverate—
When my backbone snaps, will I be awake?

Will I feel my windpipe punctured?
Will the beast toy with my lifeless body?

He seemed to think of nothing else
but waiting for his executioner—

five hundred muscled pounds with claws
and jaws of the Almighty.

In the end
the animal left nothing

of the prisoner’s flesh.
All was within

the one he’d feared and loved.
The martyr had become

the Bengal tiger.

They found his cell transformed to shrine.
In black and white and orange pigments,

walls and floor and ceiling teemed
with pictures of Zahir

ravishing his prey.