The Tigers of Nanzen-Ji: (Nanzen Temple, Kyoto)

These light-footed, celebrated
cats, created
on gold-leaf screens by a man
who’d never seen a tiger
(there were none in Japan),
who worked, as he’d been taught,
from pelts, and from paintings brought
from distant, brilliant China,
wander an extraordinary
maze whose very
air’s alive, alit with breeze-
borne inebriants. It’s a place
of tumbled boundaries
and whetted penchants, in which
big-chested brutes whose eyes are rich
outsize eggs of burnished gold,
whose coats are cloudy, glowing
masses flowing
behind an emerald palisade
of bamboo and the row
of darker palings made
by their own sable bands, glide
fatefully in the failing light, wide
mouths agape and bared teeth flashing.
It’s an hour of satisfying
runs and flying
ambitions, as gravity’s
traction relaxes a little
and hunting tigers freeze
into a fine, deepening
tensity, muscles marshaling
toward that signal opportune instant
when the commanding soul emerges:
Now
Now, it urges,
and the breaking body slides
upon the air’s broad back
and hangs there, rides and rides
with limbs outstretched—but claws
bedded in their velvet-napped paws,
for there will be no killings tonight.
All bloodshed is forbidden
here . . .
That’s the hidden
message of these grounds, which threads
like a stream around the pines
and rocks and iris beds.
The danger’s all a bluff, an
artful dumb show staged by a clan-
destine family of tigers
with Chinese dragon faces,
whose grimaces
and slashing, cross-eyed glances serve
to conceal the grins that beckon
you into the preserve
of a rare, ferociously
playful mind. Enter. You are free
from harm here. There’s nothing to fear.
—Brad Leith a user