Polly Clark

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1.
ZOO
I remember kicking the bales down
from the top of the barn, my eyes streaming.

The only creature I truly loved
hugged me, and I thought his animal warmth

was more wonderful than the touch on my cheek
from the gibbon with the circular brown eyes.

The orang-utan liked to scrub with a rag
and poke her leathery fingers through the bars,

and the elephant stood at the railings, curling
her trunk at the children,

her ears like rags, and her tusks
wrenched out; I thought

suffering must have a language, I loved
where love was wasted.

When the silly pop-eyed Père David
escaped across the zebras' frozen savannah

he chased it and threw
his great shoulders at its hooves

bringing it down in a trembling
thump, and I thought the breaking

of freedom was beautiful, I thought
I was discovering truth

in these limbs collapsing,
antlers falling against the sky,

and the snow in shreds
like a man's blue eye.
...
2.
MY LIFE WITH HORSES
Before I knew there were men,
I galloped a pony bareback;
it was a hard winter, but
how sure-footed we were, resolute
in frozen emptiness, stamping
the ice with our names.

Years later I lay like a foal in the grass,
wanting to touch your hair;
we clutched like shadows,
I twined the past through my fingers, kissing,
great gulps of father, of mother,
galloping, with nothing to stop me.

Now in the evening I put on my dress
like a secret; will you see
how my elbow pokes like a hock,
the way I have carefully cut my mane,
the way my eyes roll from fear of you?
I'm trying to hide the animal I am;

and you give me a necklace,
bright as a bit, and you're
stamping your name
into the earth, and my arm
is around you, weak as a halter,
and nothing can stop me, no mother or father.
...
3.
ELVIS THE PERFORMING OCTOPUS
hangs in the tank like a ruined balloon,
an eight-armed suit sucked empty,

ushering the briefest whisper
across the surface, keeping

his slurred drift steady with an effort
massive as the ocean resisting the moon.

When the last technician,
whistling his own colourless tune,

splashes through the disinfectant tray,
one might see, had anyone been left to look,

Elvis, changing from spilt milk to tumbling blue,
pulsing with colour like a forest in sunlight.

Elvis does the full range, even the spinning top
that never quite worked out, as the striplight fizzes

and the flylamp cracks like a firework.
Elvis has the water applauding,

and the brooms, the draped cloths, the dripping tap,
might say that a story that ends in the wrong place

always ends like this —
fabulous in an empty room,

unravelled by the tender men in white,
laid out softly in the morning.
...
4.
WOMEN
I sail into the world of women,
in a magnificent ship that does not interest them.

I imagine this is what loving them is:
adding up the piecework of them,

the pale neck, the sudden crow's feet,
the explosive lips saying of course of course.

I have learned their language, I can say
what do you think? like a native,

but they detect an accent in spite of me.
Their eyes rest on me over the wine.

Their secrets are palpable as money.
We trade, and I grow rich. I feel free.

We compare songs, the cuts on our wrists.
Sometimes I think I have found my home.

When I hold them, I hear their bones crying.
Their costly hair drifts and shines.
...
5.
ISLAY
Thirty years ago, I'm sure you lifted
your eyes from her shore, and your gaze
drifted to this rock on the mainland
where I stand remembering you -

as today the marina, when my husband
glimpsed the Innisfree, a boat he knew
long ago. Someone had made her new,
polished the years from her gleaming bow.

He fell silent as she pulled out to sea.
Just like that I think you'd know me now
as if the ocean, the islands, the sun between,
and all we love more had never been.
...

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4/13/2021 5:15:30 AM # 1.0.0.559