Lake Effect, Spring 2017, Volume 21: "Be Careful"

Be Careful

by Stephen Dunn


Don’t look an animal in the eye
if it’s larger than you;
it will think you want to fight,

or believe you to be exceedingly careless,
a danger to your species.
There would be the spectacle

of your death to worry about,
a mauling caught
on camera, perhaps shown worldwide.

Which is why it’s not worth it
even if the eyes
are amber, flecked with gold.

The way you stare at beauty
means aggression
to, say, a tiger. Whereas people

who wear dark glasses at poker tables
love to be stared at.
They like to show how good they are

at concealment; to them your long stare
is a compliment.
But a tiger is made silent and therefore

dangerous by the same fixed look.
There’s nothing more scary
than a big thing deprived of its roar.

Doesn’t blood usually follow when language
fails? And you’d be wrong,
as some have been, to think an ape—

because he was once your brother—
would do nothing more
than stare back. Be especially careful

if he reminds you of one of those brothers,
long lost and unloved,
who suddenly appears out of nowhere.