Duck tigers
Say one wrong thing
and the tendrilly scarf
in Mom's hair, a drippy
green fringe on Dad's hat
spring apart and out jumps
a tiger.
Roar! Pounce, then behind
scarf and fringe the tiger
slinks back. Into a jungle pasted
over with glossy pictures.
Dad with his wispy hair
and arrow mustache.
Mom bright-eyed with
clothes-hanger shoulders.
"Line up, kids.
Now stop giggling."
Roar! Tiger, teeth all around, chomp!
Hop into that straight line,
say "Cheese" and tousle heads
sway left, sway right.
Keep those freckles congruent
and the perfect family smiles.
The tiger hides, itchy eyes and
twitchy jaw, in moss and vines.
Sway left, sway right.
I can keep this up only
so long. Bright smile.
My lips flinch and a
big toe sticks through
my sock. Is that bad?
Roar! Tiger, teeth all around, chomp!
Mom changes the subject, avoidance:
"Cousin Eddy's apple tree is
blooming, sparkling white blossoms!"
Stonewall: "I was standing
right here, nothing happened.
I didn't even see nothing happen."
Strong offense: "You're hypersensitive
and you're dreaming."
The experts confer: "No tigers
live in northern latitudes."
Belittling: "Those teeth marks
aren't very deep."
Denial: "What teeth marks? What blood?"
Brother's slick black hair, my arm,
sister's nose and ear jig together
in a tightly sawn puzzle.
"Your job is to say the one thing
hat won't upset the picture."
Say fab, say glad, say sad, say mad.
Sway left, sway right.
"Make nice-nice to your mother
and smile at the camera."
Tonight? Tomorrow? The day
after? The rest of my life?
Roar! Tiger, teeth all around, chomp!
"What tiger?" "What teeth?" "This is north!"
"Hah!" "Those are just scratches."
"Apple blossoms, white, at cousin Eddy's."
Dad's hat in hand, head shiny,
Mom's scarf unruffled.
Wash out that mouth
and watch your tongue.
Stand up straight.
Synchronize that dance.
"Your task is to state one thing
we can stand." Anything else
put a lid on and bury in mind.
Under mountains of hair
clippings, old shirts, dirty
hand soap and toothpaste?
For forty years? And forty more?
I'm going to 'rupt this picture!
Scratchy Roar, teeth all around?
Squeaky "What tiger?" "What blood?"
"This is north!" "Apple blossoms."
Dad's moustache arrow, Mom's
hanging scarf, all crepe paper
and floppy green? No big
big noise? No fangy mouth?
Reach through moss, vines, green
tinsel and rubber tarantulas.
Pull that tiger's tail,
fangs, stripes, growl, and all.
Pull that tiger out.
Claws rip across bark,
turning up thin curlicues
and there's more than one!
A row of tigers, each with Mom's
or Dad's face, one inch tall.
Each biting the other's tail.
Pink dabs on their teeth.
                                                  [Clive Matson]

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