The Hyenas by Eric Pankey


A pair of hyenas stood at the door, dressed not unlike missionaries: black pants,
white button down shirts, their backpacks a little too snug under their armpits.

One said—We agree with John Cage, art should not be used as self-expression but
as self-alteration

The other said—Or consider what Rene Char said about why he became a writer:
A bird’s feather on my windowpane in winter and all at once there arose in my
heart a battle of embers never to subside again

Before I could get a word in edgewise, the one said—quoting, I think, Gaston
Bachelard—If a poet looks through a microscope or a telescope, he always sees the
same thing.

I had to admit these were some smart hyenas. Yet each time they spoke, their
hackles went up and whatever they said felt like a threat. Not to mention the
snickering, the tee-hee-ing, the saliva matting their chin hairs.

I stood in the doorframe. I had forgotten whether hyenas are scavengers or predators.
I didn’t want them entering.

I really have to go—I said, but the one hyena put his paw between the screen and
the jamb.

Okay—he said—but before we go, remember what Horace said—Many brave
men lived before Agamemnon, but all are overwhelmed in eternal night, unwept,
unknown, because they lack a sacred poet

The other hyena, tugging his friend away by a backpack strap, attempting to ease
the tension, said to me—Perhaps you are just that sacred poet.


ERIC PANKEY is the author of many collections of poems, most recently Crow-Work (2015 Milkweed Editions). He teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at George Mason University.