This was written in the early 90’s about a year after I read a news article about how snipers were stopping the zookeepers from feeding the animals in Sarajevo
Zoo. The last animal had just died of starvation. The poem has been published in Beloit Poetry Review.
Waiting for the Archduke
There are no leaves at Sarajevo Zoo; the last
bear died a year ago, hunched hungry
over the bones of its brother.
walks the pathways in late-autumn
haze, sidestepping peacocks grown adept
at dodging bullets; he's invulnerable himself
as heroes usually are one way or another.
Buck's waiting for a dapper
decked in braid and bristling
with mustachios, who (he's heard) still haunts
this ground, awaiting history's call to spark
again that glorious clash
for the justice of some cause,
Buck can't remember which. The chap
of futures; his story makes alive
what neither Buck nor his keepers can bear to know
in other ways. Buck's task: to slay this ghost,
this spectre who incarnates
we must deny is human, who stalks the zoo
against the day he'll prove us wrong again. Buck
wanders past the primate house, and there, in parallel
gait, grimacing back from plate glass sheen
that separates stray peacocks from rotting
monkey fur, he finds his man.