Poetry | December 01, 1980

Featuring the poems:
The Poets Observe the Absence of God from the St. Louis Zoo

The Poets Observe the Absence of God from the St. Louis Zoo

November, that time of year the Lord

created and forgot, the big cats lurk

diminished in the mouths of their manmade caves.

Most of the pink has been bleached

from the huddled flamingos. The camels squat

over the nests of their folded legs.


To this place the aging poets, old friends,

neither quite dressed for the morning chill,

come flailing their arms in thin sunlight.

They stroll through the kingdom of roars and smells,


they shelter in the murk of the Aquarium,

peer into the mouths of ancient sea turtles,

follow the bursts of minute tropical fish

but do not raise the eternal questions:


Is utility the one criterion

for creation? Does form follow function?

Neither chooses to cite the neck

of the giraffe, the rhinoceros’s horn.


Nothing is said of the opposable thumb

by means of which in the next pen a muscular

attendant in souwester and boots

force feeds dead fish to the penguins,

cramming the smelts headfirst like grain

being tamped down the craw of a Strasbourg goose.


O Deus absconditus, the tamed

formal birds, glutted for the day

and balancing without shoulders, waddle

about their confines. Each of the poets

notes how helpless the natty creatures look,

how that in itself is pathetic fallacy.


They move on, arms wrapped round each other’s backs.

Both are writing this poem in their heads

in a tight-lipped month between extreme weathers

while their lives speed by like outbound traffic.

If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.