the zoo of the unknown

This is altogether darker territory; a realm where animals are cyphers for what we don’t want to know.

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

you visit the zoo of the unknown
those clawed and fanged things you captured wild
and dragged in one by one to be caged.

Today you feel strong enough
to eye them through the bars
and the soundproof safety glass
that stops you hearing them wail and howl
hunting for their freedom

You survey the broken ground
they’ve been digging tunnels, breaching underground  places
sniffing out all that buried shame
that tamped down stench of hidden pain
no one faces

Thwarted by his resentful mate
the wildcat is crimson furred, electric with hate
It’s feeding time; silently they fling themselves at your passing shadow
hungering for your recognition.
Isn’t that why you’ve come?
Guiltily you turn away.
You’re only here to check the security

Something sorrowful lurks, you haven’t spotted him yet
And he’s harmless anyway but those hyenas now
jostling doubt and futility between their jealous jaws
they look at you with sly desire
urge you to join them in their game of back and forth
an endless  distraction
you slide past them uneasily
nothing to do with you

fear slithers beneath your feet making you unsteady
You tremble and the wild things stir within
flexing their wings, their claws, their long insinuating tongues

Predatory. They keep to themselves what they know.
That they can take you where you need to go
but only if you meet them in the wilderness
let them razor you open, leave you gutted
your heart excavated
then go riding their backs
to get a bird’s eye view

5 thoughts on “the zoo of the unknown

  1. Wow. Admittedly, this is total projection here: this poem makes me think of two things–1) the sadness of zoo’s, the pangs of guilt that the owners (and at times contributors) feel at participating in caging for profit and not for rescue/conservation. And 2) the predatory nature of creatures–and, sadly some humans.

    I heard it said recently that snakes strike immediately because they only have the base of a brain–the primal area. But humans are developed all the way to the prefrontal cortex–an ability for morality and regulation. Emphasis on the word “ability” — implying choice. While we all have biological predispositions to something, I think/hope/just make myself believe, that we still can choose which to feed–the predisposition, or what we value. I think/hope/maybe just made it up–that we can even feed both, or to ask for help and assistance medically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, whatever in strengthening us along. (Totally busted on all counts:-)).

    Within us all is the base of the brain–and a prefrontal cortex. Within us all is the ability to predate or to be just and kind. Odd, isn’t it? this ended up being more “preachy” than I intended 🙂 Kenya has been on my mind and heart….

    Apparently, this poem leaves fantastic room for discussion which great poetry can truly do.

    Thank you Nina for your poem. Thank you for listening to me project my reflections all over it! :-0 Ah, the forgiveness of art. –Cassandra


    • Thanks Cassandra -fascinating to hear what thoughts were prompted for you by this poem. Writing it for me was an exploration of emotional territory (represented by animal qualities) and where our freedom lies in relation to that – but that’s the beauty of writing something and putting it out there – how it gets transformed by whomever reads it. I love that!

      [Aside]: Kenya – it so happens that we knew – professionally – the one South African man who was killed in that massacre. It’s been deeply shocking.


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