"Is my heritage to me like a hyena's lair? Go assemble all the wild beasts, bring them to devour."
Thus, circumstance compelled me to tell you, you know
jack-shit about hyenas, dear. This, for instance: hyena is
not an animal, but an edge; where grief has its house, her
whetted territories sing. The opposite of pleasure is not
pain. Hyena does not dig the dead from their graves, but
where bodies meet the sun half-way, she is the war's mute
treasurer; she has carried away our loss in moist parcels,
with an extremity of tenderness. Draw around a sleeping
dog with chalk. Turn away and count to ten. Hyena will rise.
Patroness of feral misgivings. Her several habitats are as
follows: Lebanon, Versailles, the Falls Road, Honour Oak
after a storm. That which you call her pelt, her overalls; that
which you call her mane, her crown. Tuppenny crones prefer
the sleek indifference of felines. Hyena is her own raving
spectrum, mascot of ruder perversions. It is a militant witch
indeed who rides the long night into Rorschach, nose buried
in her sweating neck. In the mid-nineteen-seventies radical
lesbian separatists hoisted her face like a flag over pool
halls and dive bars. In the late-nineteen-nineties her loping
form was sighted in a comet's spitting tail. It is said that if
you see a hyena in your dreams, you will die a violent death.
This is true. However, hyena is not harbinger, but prophet.
Some people simply will not be told. In Guadalupe her image
appeared within a Black Mission fig, and similar visions
have been reported in the South Hebron hills near Susiya.
To find the image of hyena in a piece of fruit is to be brought
not luck, but fortitude. Within the troublant ecologies of
loss, hyena is the undisputed Mater Lachrymarum, or Third
Mother. Her signature manouevre is the planchette, sharp-
silhouetted corsair crossing any bucking sea. The night
revolves around her, and didn't I tell you that all hyenas are
female? That is, all hyenas are pirates. Hyena, our funerary
renegade, is a poltergeist in a hair shirt. Where taxonomists
say the hyena is closer to the cat than the dog, it is our
stated position that hyena is closer to a Baby Grand piano,
to an Acme safe in free fall, to a typewriter thrown from
a hotel window. And, dearest, hyena is never extinct. To
become a hyena is to live without captains or champions, to
tarry packless in dangerous places: sectarian rec grounds,
hospital corridors. Hyenas love well, but not often. There's
a fine line between woo and woe, what she'd do to impress
you, a million pitchy costumes. Hyenas are prized for
the aphrodisiac qualities of their hindsight. Men have
been grinding their bones to powder for centuries. Poor
fools. Hyena's power is not in her marrow but in the near
miraculous knack of her cherishing. She has been known to
sit vigil for eight-hundred years. Hyenas have no proverbs
only poetry. That which you cruelly describe as howling is,
in point of fact, the end of a song you persist in mishearing.
Blatant wassail, karaoke. How sorrow is ground like a coarse
This poem is featured in Hyena! Jackal! Dog!, which was published by Pamenar Press last year. Dr Fran Lock is a some-time itinerant dog whisperer, the author of seven poetry collections and of numerous chapbooks, including Contains Mild Peril (Out-Spoken Press, 2019). She has recently completed her Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, titled, "Impossible Telling and the Epistolary Form: Contemporary Poetry, Mourning and Trauma". She is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters.