Christian Drake is the 2008 Berkeley Grand Slam Champion and a
four-time National Poetry Slam team semifinalist. A former urban
forester, planetarium guide, and aquarium naturalist, his poetry is
inspired in equal parts by his love of nature and his love of
rockabilly and punk rock music. His work is most influenced by his
mentor Martín Espada, and has been covered extensively by such slam
luminaries as Andrea Gibson and Gayle Danley. Christian is well-known
on the West Coast as the co-host of the venerable Berkeley Slam and
the infamous Tourette's Without Regrets show, where he mixes blood &
guts humor, dark eroticism, impassioned calls to political conscience,
and contemplative imagery. This is nature poetry filtered through a
On Christmas Day, 2007, an escaped Siberian tiger named Tatiana mauled two and killed one teenager.
There is another paradise not found in any bible
where the lion never lies down with the lamb,
and life is written with blood on grass,
and rabbits caught in tigers’ jaws
praise their destroyers, and are eaten,
and are resurrected,
and I hope you are there.
You were born to be defiant,
because the opposite of white is orange
and you were meant to be fire on the snow,
smokeless except for plumes of hungry breath,
floating through the forest like a ghost with deep footprints,
your shoulders reciting the curves of the mountains,
black stripes falling perfectly between the saplings;
they never fit the bars of your cage the same way.
The boys stood on the walls of your enclosure
taunting you, drunk on vodka and immortality,
the kind you feel when you’re behind a gun.
Maybe they thought you weren’t a real tiger,
or that you were already extinct,
or maybe it was some defect of our monkey nature.
But you, whose mind was a map of endless Siberia,
whose alphabet was written in antlers and claws,
you escaped the shoebox cage we made for you
and showed them the real tiger.
Not the one catalogued in our museums
as beautiful but doomed,
but the orange butterfly made of raw meat
craving more raw meat,
born when the unfairness of the world was more even.
I’m afraid of the year
we no longer fear anything.
The year the last polar bear dies in the circus
and we eat the last man-eating shark in a bowl of soup
and the jungle surrenders
to the circuitry of cornfields.
We were wiser when we had more gods.
We used to sacrifice sheep; now ranchers shoot wolves
from helicopters to protect their profits.
But once we kill all our monsters,
we’ll be the only monsters left.
There must be a place on Earth for dangerous creatures
because whatever we tame,
and if we have nothing left to fear,
there will be nothing to stop us.
But sometimes the lapdog bites its master.
Sometimes the tiger mauls the magician,
reminds us we are still meat,
that our souls do not excuse us from the Earth.
The swipe of a claw baptizes us in our own blood,
makes us animal again, welcomes us home
to this planet that never imagined cages.
There is a second paradise
where we have no dominion,
where fear and love are the same word,
and it means amazement.
I hope you are there, Tatiana,
in that cruel place, the heaven of the way
the world once was,
stalking your prey in perfect silence,
your orange soul a distant fire
in the white fog of San Francisco.