In,  Like a Lion

          appeared in M, The Modern Magazine of the Mountains, fall 1998


From the time
I was a boy
Lonnie Wilson
claimed he seen it,
and one Saturday
for proof put
a spotty old hand
on the Bible
Mort Bradley
(the barber)
from the
clean towel drawer.
Hand on the Gospel,
Lonnie swore
he'd seen it,
this piece of dead tree
in Cranston Valley,
a year before
the interstate made
what he walked
half a day getting to
just one more
wide flat place.
Lonnie was ginsenging,
walking along
like a 'sanger will,
two foot ahead
and straight down,
not caring for nothing
that wasn't
two foot ahead
and straight down.
When he felt something.
Was just a funny feeling,
but Lonnie's scalp rose up
and his arms got cold.
He stopped looking down
and looked up.
It was a mountain lion,
a thing everybody knew
was long gone
from these hills.
Draped over a tree limb
loose as a dishrag,
Lonnie said it studied him,
the way Jesus will someday:
curious,  about half friendly
and not a bit impressed.
Art Conley,  first time
he heard the story
asked  "Lord God man,
didn't you have no gun?"
Lonnie nodded and muttered,
"Had a twelve gauge."
Art snorted and
wanted to know
"Well now.
Why'n the hell
didn't you kill it?"
For the space
of two breaths
Lonnie was quiet,
but answered up
on the third:
"He was where he belonged.
He was in where he belonged."
Lonnie spit into a
Maxwell House Coffee can
and shook his head.
"And had enough troubles
with I-64 a coming
the next spring."
Lonnie's in a nursing home
since December '93
and don't come around
and tell his lion story
no more.
But I remember:
"In where he belonged."
I hope someone
says that about me

    If any of you had, as an introduction to cyber space the old CompuServe program, you may remember "forums,"  a pale and over-policed version of Usenet.  For a time I was part of a "writer's forum"  that was meant to be an on-line workshop, with monthly homework assignments.  One February, with everyone looking forward to March and spring weather, the assignment was to write something around the topic 'in like a lion.'  This was my contribution.  Wonder if an early version is still archived over at CompuServe someplace?

Two elderly brothers, who weren't blood kin but had known us forever, used to come to our family reunions.  In the seventies one of them told repeatedly about an encounter like the one in the poem.  I doubt the old man saw the jeering grins and rolling eyes of doubters standing behind him.  I believed him though, and it seemed likely if there was a mountain lion here in 1960 or '61, when Mr. Orcutt saw his,  then almost certainly others were around.

Then six or seven years ago, the local paper carried this story:

newspaper clipping: Tilden Hogge Students, Staff, Spot Mountain Lion

    One of these  "regionally extinct"  creatures wandered out of the woods behind Tilden Hogge Elementary School, six or seven miles from where I'm typing these lines.  On an unseasonably warm late winter day, the big cat found a piece of sunlit ground and curled up for a nap, giving the school kids and their teachers an hour or so to admire him.  Then he got up, stretched, and wandered back into the Daniel Boone National Forest.

I'd like to think that from where ever old Appalachian gents go when they die, Mr. Orcutt watched that lion's doze, maybe in the company of other long-dead old timers who never believed his tale.

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