[from Carol Frost’s The Queen’s Desertion, 2006]
The St. Louis Zoo
The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs . . . sometimes voices.
— The Tempest
High, yellow, coiled, and weighting the branch like an odd piece of fruit,
a snake slept
by the gate, in the serpent house. I walked around the paths hearing
hushed air, piecemeal remarks, and the hoarse voice of the keeper
and pellets in the elephant compound — “Hungry, are you? There’s a girl.
How’s Pearl?” — A clucking music, then silence again crept past me
on the waters of the duck pond. Birds with saffron wings in the flight
and flamingos the color of mangoes, even their webbed feet red-orange,
“by the algae they ingest,” as angels are made of air — some bickered,
some were tongue-tied, some danced on one leg in the honeyed light.
I thought of autumn as leaves scattered down. Nearby, closed away
in his crude beginnings in a simulated rain forest, the gorilla pulled out
of grass, no Miranda to teach him to speak, though he was full of noises
and rank air after swallowing. Smooth rind and bearded husks lay about
His eyes were ingots when he looked at me.
In late summer air thick with rose and lily, I felt the old malevolence;
the snake tonguing the air, as if to tell me of its dreaming: — birds
gemming a pond; the unspooling; soft comings on, soft, soft
gestures, twisted and surreptitious; the shock; the taste; the kingdom.
In something more than words, You are the snake, snake coils in you,
it said. Do you think anyone knows its own hunger as well as the snake?
Why am I not just someone alive? When did Spirit tear me
to see how void of blessing I was? The snake hesitated, tasting dusk’s
to feel if it was still good. And through its swoon
it knew it. Leaf, lichen, the least refinements, and the perfection.
The Queen's Desertion: Poems