The Human Zoo


When they brought me to the Human Zoo
I thought my life would be pretty ok.

I mean, life on earth was just so-so,
And I’d been to real zoos a hundred times.
And liked that the animals,
While in only a facsimile of their real world-
Had the luxury of not having to work for anything.
So when twelve arms from three different creatures,
None of them wearing protective gloves, I should say,
Placed a collar on my neck and gave me shots,
And tagged my ear and outfitted me in new clothes,
I was sort of ok with it.

I pictured a vast meadow with soft grass on which to recline,
Or a forest with verdant moss on all the trees,
Or even my bedroom, LPs and books and video games.
Surely these conservation-minded, scientifically advanced creatures,
Adept at interstellar travel as they were,
Did the research to know where I belonged.

Imagine my horror, then,
When I entered the bleached white confines of an urban office,
Rolling chair with broken back, out-of-the-box keyboard,
A computer which changed automatically,
As though it were tuned to some remote user.
But at least it was quiet.

Until the sounds began to be piped in,
Far off voices mingling and rising and diminishing.
The staccato tapping of high heels on linoleum.
The occasion braying of some fool’s over-earnest laughter.
A gross parody of the jungle sounds in a rain forest exhibit,
Footfalls and conversation instead of birds and insects.
I sunk into the chair and considered my lot,
When suddenly the lights outside my cage turned on.
And the scientists took stock of their creation and captive.

“There, you see?” said one to the others,
“And you were concerned. Once you get him in his right habitat,
That bizarre upturning of the lips disappears and the eyes do dim.”
“So right,” said another with obvious delight,
“I was so concerned when his disposition in the transport
Seemed so unlike what we had observed for the last two years.”
And I sighed and, in resignation, picked up a pen and a pad and began scrawling meaningless things,
And the aliens smiled and sighed and clapped each other on their spiny backs,
As though a woodchuck had begun to burrow into the false earth of his cage.

Each day the tourists come to watch me, depressed and impotent and slowly driven insane,
By my phantom co-workers’ noise and the meaninglessness of my life,
And while I cannot read their language
I can infer
That the glowing plaque outside my enclosure reads,
“Urban earth man, happy and at home in his native environment.”