Melanie Jordan recently released her debut collection Hallelujah for the Ghosties from Sundress Publications. I wrote a review that you can read here. Here’s a short poem, first published in Diagram:
IN THE BROKEN ZOO
They kept us and now they’ve left us.
My marble eye rides blackwater;
prey I can become. Banging on the far wall.
Soon the umbrage of pit and scale, the fur,
the thumbs. The tarsiers founder on snakes
now, but until spring on air I could survive.
I ride this stale water, I am the heir of abiding:
they shook the earth, my oldest ancestors,
they rumble my cold blood still, though
egg-sucking rats and the endless winter
laid them down like logs to die.
So long as the pool was deep enough,
so long as the need was slender,
we got along. So long as
the glass was strong.
This monologue demonstrates Jordan’s lyricism, unconventional point of view, and intelligence, her scientific know-how and her poetry chops. I’m on board as soon as I get to that second line–the alliteration of “my marble” is bookended by the internal rhyme of “my” and “eye,” and I love “blackwater” as one word–some chaos has happened, and it’s dangerous below the surface in the aftermath. I love “the heir of abiding,” a great description of being the result of adaptions that happened longer ago than average–a species, I’m assuming of reptile, that was so well-evolved so long ago that it hasn’t changed much since. I enjoy the delay in the syntax of “they shook the earth, my oldest ancestors,” maybe because it’s iambic pentameter, maybe because it plays on the etymology of dinosaur names like “seismosaurus.” Her last line is great, and it demonstrates a rule of thumb I learned from Jackie Osherow–if you know you have to get away with making a big proclamation, you have to prepare for it, sonically. Jordan does that here with “long,” “long,” “along,” leading into “So long as / the glass was strong.” The zoo is broken, literally, but has led to an explosion of animal life that is both dangerous and thrilling.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Write a poem from an animal’s point of view.