The Woman at the Washington Zoo
The saris go by me from the embassies. Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet. They look back at the leopard like the leopard. And I. . . . this print of mine, that has kept its color Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so To my bed, so to my grave, with no Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief, The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief-- Only I complain. . . . this serviceable Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns, Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap, Aging, but without knowledge of their age, Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death-- Oh, bars of my own body, open, open! The world goes by my cage and never sees me. And there come not to me, as come to these, The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain, Pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards Tearing the meat the flies have clouded. . . . Vulture, When you come for the white rat that the foxes left, Take off the red helmet of your head, the black Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man: The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn, To whose hand of power the great lioness Stalks, purring. . . . You know what I was, You see what I am: change me, change me!
From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, 1996 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission.