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Her previous enclosure was surrounded

by a wire mesh fence four metres high

and a low hedge, so she was used to seeing

big people from the knees up and small people

with heads only. Now she paces to and fro,

back and fore, in front of a plate glass

viewing window, as if on sentry-go.

We are a yard apart me and this fellow

being, whose shining bronze eyes slide away

each time they see mine. Every ten turns or so

she stops, lowers her head and roars – a sound

so obvious yet unexpected,

so profound, so primordial it

obscures all others, and all thought.


Another lioness, her sister, rests

after feeding – as does the lion,

in a statuesque pose, on a faux rock,

concrete made to look like sandstone,

and heated, as if warmed by a tropic sun.

Smaller than African lions, these were hunted

by Assyrian kings, and one had a thorn

removed by Androcles. These three are conserved,

preserved, pampered, even, as if stars

on a movie set, waiting to be called.

Maybe they will breed in their new enclosure

on the edge of the zoo, past the butterflies,

prodigious breeders in captivity.


We must seem an eccentric species:

smelling edible but always beyond reach;

a herd that disappears into the night;

standing about in the light, and staring,

forever making inconsequential sounds;

and one or two of us every day

throwing away haunches of raw meat.


Beyond the heavy duty outer fences –

built as if bordering a prison yard –

are empty pastoral fields; a canal

built to carry ceramics unbroken

from the Potteries to the Mersey;

ancient woodland; a church with a clock tower,

its foundations pre-Reformation;

and, in the distance, an oil refinery.




© Copyright David Selzer
4 Responses
  • Alan Horne
    January 30, 2021

    ‘… Throwing away haunches of meat.’ That’s great, David.

  • John Huddart
    February 5, 2021

    What thoughts lie behind the eyes of animals! I ask our dog, and she never replies. They keep their secrets.

    Acute observations – so much more authentic than Hughes.

  • Jeff Teasdale
    February 6, 2021

    Ah, memories of Chester Zoo with loads of space, and other cramped zoos with pacing animals with no other future. I left the former in high spirits, and the latter feeling depressed.

    Like people, somehow the eyes are the give-away….

  • Alex Cox
    February 20, 2021

    I love the environment at the poem’s end. All the complexity of South Wirral. We went to Chester Zoo often when I were a lad. And my summer job was at that oil refinery!

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