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image from fanpop.com

image of black panther from fanpop.com

In the state of Michoacán, Mexico, stories abound of a cantina in the foothills called La Pantera Negra, in honour of the cats that used to travel freely between the Sierra Madres Occidentales and the Andes mountains to the south. The owner of the cantina was a woman; some say she herself was panther, capable of shifting from human to feline and back again in the time it would take you to reach for your centavos—or, foolishly, your pistol.

La Pantera was known also for her laments: poems set to music in the traditions of the great Tarascan Empire whose heights eclipsed the Aztecs, long before the arrival of the Europeans. What follows is an excerpt of a lament said to be composed by La Pantera in her feline state and brought back for guitar and vocals. My Spanish isn’t fluent enough to provide the entire song in its original rhythms, so I’ll give you the first stanza in its optimal language; the same again and carried on in English.

Lugar es el espacio, congelado;
ocasión, el tiempo. ¿Que temes,
cobarde, de hacernos un evento?

Place is space, congealed;
occasion, time. What fear have you,
coward, of making an event of us?

Or is it that your greater skill
these days is one of making memories,
nothing permanent—for certain,
nothing good, and you’re less
adept than you were in those
days impulsive of forgetting?

I watch your lapping tongue,
I know how you reserve your
sweetest language for the ones
you most despise, have seen you
swipe with lazy paw and crunch
between your teeth the hearts
who beat for you in hopes,
I watch them follow you,
slow dying of a thirst
you lead them to believe
you’ll quench.

But now, black panther,
language, it is turning;
no longer will the tongue
of our great nation serve
you as a concubine.

Your silence makes
the mountains weep
the wombs of brides
they dry like cuttlefish
we salt and hang
from poles

O, space and time, erase
this coward from our midst,
and bring to me the one who
can forget and has no fear
of making an event of us!

© Elaine Stirling, 2013