“The Human-headed Lion Seduces Three Lambs ” by Mildred Barya

The Animals of my Earth School by Mildred Barya

Terrapin Books, 2023, 96 pp.

We are roasting a chunk of tenderloin beef by the roadside—my older brother, my younger sister, and someone who looks like David from my high school. He laughs like David and talks like David. He’s supposed to be telling us stories. He says he has good ghost stories. 

Where we are is new to me. I do not remember living or moving here, yet I own the orange apartment across the road. Other than a few shrubs and scanty dwarf trees, the ground is covered with loose white sand and concrete. We’re in a city but what city? Why aren’t we in a park or some other picnic-friendly place? 

A few meters from our barbecue, we see a lion with a human head enticing three lambs. The lion tells them that he knows a field of green pasture where they can feed to their fullest. He sticks his tongue out and slowly licks his mouth—cute and disturbing all at once. I expect the lambs to flee, but they begin fidgeting, scratching the ground with their cloven hooves. The lion steps forward—closing the distance between—and grins. The lambs gaze at the lion’s face. Have you ever looked into the dilated pupils of a lion’s eyes? They’re filled with peace and light. Ambered appetite. Persuasion. The lambs enter the land of believability and walk with the lion. We know he’s going to eat them; he wants to fatten them for his own good. 

What is it in the realm of desire that elicits trust? Between the green and red traffic signs, what pushes pedestrians to ignore the solid amber light and cross the road? What urges cars to drive past a flashing yellow strobe? 

The sweet and pungent smell of smoked chilies, onions, and garlic flavors the air. I gather some sticks to beat the lion in case he comes back for us. If I close my eyes and listen deeply, I can hear the lowered pitch and muted resonance in the lion’s voice. Seeking obedience and worst of all—sacrifice. Perhaps none of us can resist a lion clothed in a language that appeals to our senses. The lion works his magic, his golden eyes flecked with charm.


Mildred Kiconco Barya is a writer from Uganda now living in North Carolina. Her publications include three poetry books, as well as prose, hybrids, and poems published in Shenandoah, Joyland, The Cincinnati Review, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her fourth full-length poetry collection, The Animals of My Earth School, is forthcoming from Terrapin Books, 2023. She is a board member of African Writers Trust and coordinates the Poetrio Reading events at Malaprop’s Independent Bookstore/Café. She teaches creative writing and literature at UNC-Asheville.

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