At night, I take off my shoes.
We pretend we’re in West Africa. Together,
we talk of rubber trees, how you miss the warm
throats of antelopes, a sun so hot the earth smells
of distant fires. We imagine our feet
calloused from heat, away from the patches of night-
silver snows in Ohio. Mostly, I’m here
to listen, then remind you of your role. Isn’t that
what we all need from time to time,
for someone else to notice, say Yes,
you’re living what you were made for?
Other workers play poker in the aquarium lobby
or sleep near the gift shop after feeding
the nocturnals. They only suspect me once, the night
two high school boys dared one another to sneak into
the polar bear pool before dawn.
One boy’s hand was already missing
by the time they all got there, having heard
the screams. I was already in the water
talking not to the boys, to the bears.
Tonight, the same bears are teaching two cubs
a creation myth, describe great walls of ice
that they will never touch.
Remembering only a land of heat, you want to hear
this story, too. So we follow winding sidewalks
to the other side of the world. Animals reach
beyond cages, tuck small flowers in your mane:
bush deer and elephant, pepper bird, baboon.
Cool cement beneath our feet, distant
highways for rivers, streetlamps for giraffes.
Does a soul really change when we can’t see