The World-Famous Topeka Zoo

I ran the answer desk. First job, acne burning.

Only the janitor on work-release had a question:

could he listen to Aqualung on my boom box.

The next summer, promoted, I pushed my cart

rattling along the sidewalk, bringing meat

to dwarf crocodiles, Osteolamus tetraspis.

The orangutans checked each exhibit latch,

brachiating into their day enclosure,

anticipating the day the gods would slip up.

Hosing down the rainforest walkway,

I looked up in time to glimpse a marmoset

unlatching the door of his cage, and leaping,

splash into the crocodiles’ shallow pool.

What seconds of joy, though, mid-air.

Flamingo meant an aunt’s hat set on stilts.

Their felt-tip beaks bent heavy with ink,

and their necks spelled Siegfried Sassoon.

Beside the keeper’s lounge, three white swans

hid, resting beaks in the grass like dress shoes.

By noon it seemed every living thing

wanted to slither, crawl, fly, or brute out.

Vipers were quickest. One day a blind antelope

stumbled through an open gate into traffic.

Some seemed to keep trying after the last try.

The deep freeze help a giraffe’s severed face,

staring up from its bag, strangely presidential.

Geckos have civilized the employee kitchen,

crawling up the stucco from behind the radio.

Yet some wallowed and loved. Bottle-raised,

a gibbon reached out long shaggy arms to be held.