We must realize, the lecturer says,
that human beings are a part of nature,
there is talk of funding, several videos—
Captivity, even in a zoo like ours, he tells us,
can render some species depressed and lethargic.
One clip shows volunteers
wrapping thawed rats in brown paper
for a cageful of bored condors to pick apart.
The dedicated scientists take notes,
the whales breach, exploding spray
as they always have. Local folk with guns
guard the perimeter of the game park,
keeping the animals safe.
We call this preserving nature.
I want to apologize to my dog.
It’s a stupid world we humans have made.
It’s bizarre when you think about it,
riding down the elevator at five
in the morning, taking another being
out to pee on the end of a strap.
Calm in her sit-stay, she knows the routine,
waits patiently for the door to open,
trotting out into the world at heel.
Who is she in those other moments,
when she turns, ears sharply cocked,
from the hiking trail into the woods,
leaping the fallen timber, drunk on the forest’s
invisible floods of scent, scouring the duff
for squirrel or field mouse? She knows in her bones
that each little brute’s a rank, salty crunch.
Maybe she’s left me standing,
listening into the forest for the rattle of her collar,
scanning the wood line anxiously,
but there she is, good dog, bounding through
the brush, she’s abandoned her chase, dashing back
with shining, chestnut eyes. What if I called her
and she didn’t come? What if she returned to me,
the inveterate vegetarian, proudly carrying
some bleeding, dead thing? Who is she,
slave or strange daughter-substitute?
She doesn’t know where we’re going
when she springs happily into the car.
As I drive, she leans against the passenger door,
her head tilted solemnly, lost in animal meditation,
or her own thoughts, whatever they are.
Remember the biologist’s dogs, killing
a deer in bloody snow, then cozying up
in front of the fire with his child?
Remember the moment when King Kong,
splayed like Jesus in his stanchions,
is driven mad by bright lights
and the roaring of the crowd? The King,
who being fictional, is really a part of us
wrenches himself loose,
tearing up Times Square,
running amok out into the streets.
They remade that movie.
We want to believe that the monster,
huge and battle-scarred, and the blonde,
bare-legged in her windblown chiffon rags,
will have their moment, sitting side by side,
gazing out over city or forest,
that love, inarticulate as usual,
will finally have its way.
It was very quiet in the auditorium, after the videos.
The audience strained to see; the woman attendants
came down the aisle, holding the baby gorillas up and out
like a pair of Torahs, patting their little
diapered tushies consolingly. They tried to cling
to their keepers, I suppose they had no choice,
but babies never do. I got a good glimpse
of one small, bright-eyed face, a hand
like a tiny, black-vinyl glove. The two women
carried their charges onto the stage, and stood
dwarfed by the size of the hall. A corner
of the audience applauded, loud.
One of the babies twisted in terror, struggling
in her keeper’s arms. The human ocean hushed itself,
a tidal wave of empathy,
a thousand eyes stared, rapt, silent.