Journal of Writing & Environment

“Kunming Zoo”


There is nothing more animal-like

than a clear conscience

on the third planet of the Sun.


Wislawa Szymborska, In Praise of Self-Deprecation


A donkey with tumors on his penis

and hooves that curl toward his knees


hangs his head toward hot bricks, shifts

from hoof to hoof, a dance he does all day.


The elephants sway to this same rhythm

shackled to asphalt, straining for shade.


In a disused amphitheater, a concrete pit

where they used to have trained seal shows


monkeys race tight circles on short chains

orbits wearing concrete dark and polished


and a ribby wolf in a collapsing rusted cage

raises stiff bones, growls low when a girl nears


to watch them. She is dressed all in pinks.

We hear her say nothing. The sky darkens gray.


Tigers in barren dens lick sores, empty bowls.

Ever hear a tiger cry? They are quiet as the dead.


On our way out we hear them wailing,

children steered sobbing toward the gates


by hurried parents glancing skyward, fearing rain.