The Sarajevo Zoo

By Glyn Maxwell b. 1962 Glyn Maxwell
Men had used up their hands, men had
offered, cupped, or kissed them to survive,
had wiped them on the skirts of their own town,
as different men had shinned up a ladder and taken
         the sun down.

One man had upped his arms in a victory U
to a thousand others, to show how much of the past
he did not know and would not know when he died.
Another’s joke was the last a hostage heard:
         Oh I lied

which did win some applause from the bare hands
of dozing men. And others of course had never
fired before, then fired, for the work of hands
was wild and sudden in those days
         in those lands.

For men. For the women there was
the stroke, the ripping of hair, the smearing of tears,
snot, and there was the prod of a shaking man,
or with fused palms the gibbering prayer
         to the U.N.

The nothing they had between those palms was
hope and the yard between surrendering palms
was hope as well. Far off, a fist in the sky
was meaning hope but if you prised it open
         you say why.

The hands of the children here were wringing themselves
hot with the plight of animals over there,
and drawing them in their pens with the crimson rain
of what men do to each other on television
         crayoned in.

But hands continued to feed the demented bear
who ate two other bears to become the last
bear in the Sarajevo Zoo. And they fed him
when they could, two Bosnian zookeepers
         all autumn.

Today I read that that time ended too,
when fifteen rifles occupying some thirty
hands got there and crept in a rank on knees
towards the smoke of the blown and stinking cage
         and black trees.

Trees were what you could not see the starving
beasts behind, or see there were now no beasts,
only the keepers crouching with their two lives.
Then winter howled a command and the sorry branches
         shed their leaves.

Glyn Maxwell, “The Sarajevo Zoo” from The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995. Copyright © 2000 by Glyn Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of Glyn Maxwell.

Source: The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)

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Poet Glyn Maxwell b. 1962

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse