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Poetry and Medicine
May 1, 2002

The Zoo

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2002;287(17):2189. doi:10.1001/jama.287.17.2189

I wonder what happened to the zoo
in Scranton. Its abandoned Snake House,
the grizzly bear enclosure, the long-haired
couple of acres the dromedaries
used to cluster in, none of the occupants
are home. On our tour of loneliness,
this is the first stop my daughter takes me to,
around the back of a knoll in Scranton.
I'm surprised no one demolished the buildings
and fenced the walkways, or turned the site
to a better use. If this were New York
they'd have built an amphitheater here,
but in Scranton the theaters are locked,
at least for today, and my daughter and I
are the players. Life must have been bad
for the lions or tigers that lived
in this cage with a concrete ledge at the back
to sleep on, and a fake tree trunk
that comes up from the cracked, weedy trough
at the front where they drank. What do you think?
I ask. Neither of us wants to think
about leaving, or to examine the taste
of regret. Instead, the apocalypse.
We kid about it—the prophetic old gibbon
who cries, Mend your ways! And how two by two
the animals leave. The emu moves
toward the gate, shimmering in a cloud
of insects, the tentative elephant
takes a first step, a tame bear braves death
in the wilderness. But of the sense of loss
that touches her heart as well, we say nothing.
Instead, at the wreck of a concession stand,
she buys me a cone of cotton candy,
and we pass the padlocked model of a mine,
which reminds her, she says, when the time came,
some of the animals chose to stay close
to the old zoo, like the squirrels that scutter
these ruins, deep in their own designs.

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