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.