The Animals in the Zoo Don’t Seem Worried

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
Looking at the lion behind the plate glass
I wasn’t sure what I was looking at: a lion, OK,
but he seemed to come apart, not literally

I mean, but I couldn’t see him whole:
Mane. Teeth. The slung belly pumping
as he panted and began to roar. His balls

sheathed in fur swaying a little. His tail’s tuft
jerking in an arc like an old-time pump handle
rusted in midair. Somebody or something

I read once said that when Jesus had his vision
of what his father, God, would do to him,
that Jesus could only see pieces of a cross,

pieces of a body appearing through flashes
of sun, as if the body in his vision
was hands looking for feet, a head for a torso,

everything come unmagnetized from the soul:
the lion caught me in his stare not at
or through me but fixated on the great chain

of being that Jesus couldn’t see and that
a zebra might gallop in — black and white stripes
marking longitudes of this world turning

to meat, bloody meat — this vision of an inmate
that Jesus’s father helped to orchestrate by
making a cageless cage with glass instead

of bars — though the lion didn’t seem to care,
he was roaring for his keepers to bring
him food, so everything’s what it should be

if you’re a lion. Nor did the sea lion
seem concerned about having gone a little
crazy, barking incessantly so I could see

the plush, hot pink insides of its throat,
though like the lion through the glass
there’s this distortion, my reflection

I’m looking through that makes me float above
the zoo: and now this silence at closing time
pours like a waterfall in different zones

of silences that, pouring through my head,
surround roaring, barking, human muttering — 
is any of that what being sounds like?

Or is it just animal gasping like what
Jesus must have heard from the thieves
hanging beside him, one damned, one saved?

What was in his heart when his vision
clarified and he saw it was a hand he
recognized that the nail was driving through?

Source: Poetry (May 2014).

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2014
 Tom  Sleigh

Biography

Tom Sleigh is the author of more than half a dozen volumes of poetry. Space Walk (2007) won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award and earned Sleigh considerable critical acclaim. Referring to this collection, poet Philip Levine noted, “Sleigh’s reviewers use words such as ‘adept,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘classical.’ Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, The Mind, Nature, Animals, Religion, Christianity, God & the Divine, The Spiritual

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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