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By Sandra McPherson

Lions don’t need your help. In the Serengeti,

For instance, one thousand like the very rich


Hold sway over more than Connecticut. The mane

Of the lion, like the hooked jaw of the male salmon,


Acts as a shield for defense and is the gift

Of sexual selection. His eyes are fathomless amber.


The lion is the most social of the big cats.

Pride members are affectionate among themselves.


They rub cheeks when they meet. They rest

And hunt together. And cubs suckle indiscriminately.


But strangers or members of a neighboring pride are not

Usually accepted. If a pride male meets a strange female


He may greet her in a friendly fashion

And even mate with her


But the pride females will drive her off.

Male lions, usually depicted as indolent freeloaders


Who let the lionesses do all the hunting, are not mere

Parasites. They maintain the integrity of the territory.


Lions eat communally but completely lack table manners.

Indeed, lions give the impression that their evolution


Toward a social existence is incomplete—that cooperation

In achieving a task does not yet include


The equal division of the spoils.

More bad news: lions are not good parents.


But prowess, that they have. Their courage comes

From being built, like an automobile,


For power. A visible lion is usually a safe lion,

But one should never feel safe


Because almost always there is something one can’t see.

Given protection and power


A lion does not need to be clever.

Now, lions are not the most likable kind of animal


Unless you are a certain type of person,

That is, not necessarily leonine in the sense of manly


Or ferocious, but one who wouldn’t mind resting twenty

Of twenty-four hours a day and who is not beyond


Stealing someone else’s kill

About half the time.


Lions are not my favorite kind of animal,

Gazelles seem nicer,


A zebra has his own sort of appealing pathos,

Especially when he is sure prey for the lion.


Lions have little to offer the spirit.

If we made of ourselves parks and placed the lion


In the constituent he most resembled

He would be in our blood.


Sandra McPherson, “Lions” from Elegies for the Hot Season (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970). Copyright © 1970 by Sandra McPherson. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Elegies for the Hot Season (Ecco Press, 1970)

  • Nature

Poet Bio

Sandra McPherson
Sandra McPherson was raised in San Jose, California. She went to college in California, then studied with Elizabeth Bishop at the University of Washington. She writes of her relationships with husband, daughter, parents, teachers, and friends with a sense of both the possibilities and limits of intimacy. Her poems are oblique and often difficult, yet are always firmly anchored in perception and experience. See More By This Poet

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