By Young Smith

“Sullen” only begins to describe it—
his all too lucid, all too human stare.

His mate sits nursing an infant behind him
in the mouth of an artificial cave, while,

just to busy his hands, it seems, he strips
leaves from a twig of bamboo. His gestures

are slow and deliberate, but as his fingers work,
his eyes never leave us, moving in turn

from one face, from one camera to the next.
This, of course, is what holds us at the rail—

that he watches back, like no other animal
in the zoo—and there is only one way

to understand his expression: he has little
hope for the health of our souls.

Young Smith has received fellowships from the NEA and the Kentucky Arts Council. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review, Pleiades, Crazyhorse, The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, American Literary Review, Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review, The Midwest Quarterly, The New Orleans Review, and other publications. He is author of the collection, In a City You Will Never Visit, published by Greencup Books. He is an associate professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University, where he is a core faculty member with the Bluegrass Writers Studio, a low-residency MFA program.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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