Virginia Konchan, “Zoo”

for Ibrahim Dayib

Zoo (from The Rumpus)
Virginia Konchan

Unbridled, the sick pony
traverses listlessly a circle.
Something something about
the indifference of crows.
Nature draws a crowd:
amateur photographers
drawn to the ellipsis
of weather, the dew point
of sumac and wisteria vines.
Cross the sturdy footbridge;
greet the slack-jawed child.
Do not tell me this is not
beautiful, the clay heart
of Nature in the throes
of inconsequence, before
its animation by mind.


1. I don’t think it’s possible to make too much of the first four lines. The unbridled, sick pony “traverses.” The pony could be walking across a circle or walking around a larger space in a circle. It is free but listless.

Free, listless, circular and perhaps even a poet: “traverses.” Why not just say “walks in” or “moves about?” The pony might be musing on “the indifference of crows.” In his inarticulateness, he is not vaguely but strongly poetic: “something something about the indifference of crows” isn’t just a beautiful line, but one with a peculiarly poetic concern. The crows, I assume, circle somewhat and move away. The pony would like to know why they don’t see the relation of their situation to his, whether pity (the crows are truly free in Nature) or sympathy (they recognize they’re ultimately in a similar situation).

2. The pony is the true poet. The crows were a crowd of sorts for him, just as we, at the zoo, are all photographing Nature as if we had seen it for the first time. We’re “drawn to the ellipsis of weather” – the imperfect circle of the world we perceive is entirely bounded by weather. Are we only seeing now?

Our growth might be in those vines. We all know sumac can be poisonous, but wisteria produces flowers. In looking at the dew and for the dew point, we’re wondering about harming and healing – good and bad, beauty and fear, pleasure and pain – how it forms a whole. The dew point is common to the vines; it is of the air that nurtures them.

We could be seeing a lot and maybe this poem should be cut short. Human wonder could be blossoming. But there’s a catch: that pony is still not free in Nature, we’re still at the zoo. Are we really seeing?

3. “Cross the sturdy footbridge; greet the slack-jawed child:” lots of potential readings here, but I’ll choose one: the speaker sees the pony and turns childlike. Adult wonder and childlike wonder are reconciled. The adult can see what was actually there, the unbridled unpitied pony, knowing its true majesty. It is sad the animal is in the zoo: we need such artifice to see Nature’s beauty? Perhaps we do, but Nature and what belongs to it are much stronger than us. The “clay heart” reveals Nature malleable in the face of our almost making it trivial. The animal always is special to the child. Nature is animated by the mind as it has animated the mind. The human poet is only documenting what has been seen.

1 Comment

  1. This poem is filled with so much tension – its palpable-I’ve come to love it a lot. Thank you for illuminating two lines for me:
    “Something something…” is one of my favorite new lines. I like your reading of it. I find myself thinking about it a lot.
    “Clay heart of nature…” – Now thats a powerful image. It captures the fragility of life itself.

    Thank you for sharing your take on this poem. Much appreciated.

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