A number of years ago, I was a zookeeper at Edinburgh Zoo, and this experience was interesting for a number of reasons, but the purposes of this poem, there's a hierarchy in zoo-keeping whereby the big powerful animals like lions and tigers and elephants and so on are looked after the the big powerful men, and I looked after things like birds and chipmunks and so on. And at that time I was very young, and sort of fell in love with this idea of big powerful men and big powerful animals, and this poem is about that.
I remember kicking the bales down
from the top of the barn, my eyes streaming.
The only creature I truly loved
hugged me and I thought his animal warmth
was more wonderful that the touch on my cheek
from the gibbon with the circular brown eyes.
The orang-utan liked to scrub with a rag
and poke her leathery fingers through the bars,
and the elephant stood at the railings, curling
her trunk at the children,
her ears like rags, and her tusks
wrenched out; I thought
suffering must have a language, I loved
where love was wasted.
When the silly pop-eyed Pere David
escaped across the zebras’ frozen savannah
he chased it and threw
his great shoulders at its hooves
bringing it down in a trembling
thump, and I thought the breaking
of freedom was beautiful, I thought
I was discovering truth
in these limbs collapsing,
antlers falling against the sky,
and the snow in shreds
like a man’s blue eye.
from Kiss (Bloodaxe Books, 2000), © Polly Clark 2000, used by permission of the author and the publisher