The Snow Leopard’s Comrades by Carol Tarlen

“The new model is materialistic,”
they said, eating cabbage and potato soup
in their cramped, cold apartment.
“You have too many malls in America,
too many autos, too much.
We have nothing.”
“You have the snow leopard,”
their visitor said.

In Tajikistan only the blessed
glimpse the snow leopard’s white coat,
its black stripes
marking its small footprints
etched into ice.
How many are left
now that the walls have fallen
and poachers hunt their prey?

“It’s not the people’s fault,”
they said between sips
of their hot meal.
“They too are hungry.
All is endangered in Tajikistan.
Europeans collect everything.
Even insects belong to the free market.
Maybe we too will end up
on some rich man’s wall,” they laughed.

Their guest was silent.
He had visited empty zoos,
shared thin soups,
trudged through mountains
once protected by commissars,
crystallized icy beauty
now a stock market commodity.

“Oil companies are petitioning
our government to explore
with blasting caps
or whatever is cost effective,”
his hosts said.
“Economics come first.
Even we need soup,”
they grinned.

“What will you do?”
the American asked.
One man spoke.
“Here the people have lived for centuries
off the earth, as part of the earth.
There was no need for conservation.
But we have studied the market place
and we are now green.
We will educate the children.
They will understand.”

Yesterday the American had seen
a snow leopard’s cadaver,
toothless, thin, its coat spotted
with hairless patches.
“What happened to it?” he had asked.

“When a creature who lives off prey
has nothing to hunt,
its teeth fall out.
It’s the process of starvation.
We are all hungry creatures,”
the man explained.
“But we are hopeful
because we are the green movement
here in Tajikistan.
And because we are human,
we are foolish, but hopeful.”
They fell silent, looking
into their empty soup bowls.

The American, too, grew hopeful.
He had wanted to be blessed.
He had wanted to see a leopard,
sleek and sacred,
gliding over the snow.
“How many are you
in this movement?” he asked.
“Four,” they answered. “We are four.
But we are hopeful.”

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