Travis Mossotti, “Dallas World Aquarium, Private Tour”

Dallas World Aquarium, Private Tour (from Verse Daily)
Travis Mossotti

In the special holding area
on the roof a howler monkey
hung from a rope inside
a clenched fist of wires.
I thought we were kindred
spirits so I howled and he
started up, but Regina said
I was stressing him out,
so I stopped. Her eyes
grew dim like cracked china
on the edge, while back inside
jungle rot rose up from sewers,
a toucan screamed, and
from the canopy we looked down
at manatees swimming laps.
Our guide mentioned something
about educating the public
and scoring us free tee-shirts.
During the long drive back
to Glen Rose I tripped over
the sun and fell asleep.


Recently, two poems caught my attention and didn’t let go. One was “On a Picture by Cézanne” by W.S. Di Piero. If I become smart at any point in my life, I might have something interesting to say about it.

This was the other and I absolutely love it. Awed initially by “hung from a rope inside” – it sounds like the monkey himself is being executed. “A clenched fist of wires” both affirms and dispels that image. A primal howl awakens something, perhaps not just in the monkey. There is stress and then a stop. “So I stopped. Her eyes” is set off peculiarly in the original formatting. The world had changed for a second. What changed?

The rough story: “I howled” / “I stopped” / “I tripped.” Eyes growing wide as dinner plates is stopped, turned into “cracked china on the edge:” a dull white of something that aspires to be finer. Convention has been cracked; the evidence is all around. The “rot” from “sewers” is creation. Creation is within chaos. The scream is from a colored, fantastic bird and might be of joy. The manatees don’t seem to hate their swim.

The speaker doesn’t pay attention to what the guide wants him to know (is knowledge of one commandment being ignored?) and could care less about t-shirts. Nature is naked without shame, but shame is what you need for any sort of law.

What changed seems to be wholly beyond Biblical. A convention had to be broken to howl at a monkey. It wasn’t just inappropriate for a human to do. It was an attempt – probably a mistaken attempt – at communication. What could be communicated involves personifying the monkey. The “rot” from “sewers,” the random screaming, the illegal swimming: all those mistakes are called “living.” Can this be applied to life in any way? Probably only in our dreams. Still, we can hope. We do make mistakes.

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