“Central Park Zoo, 1970” by Katherine Barrett Swett

Katherine Barrett Swett


Back in the old zoo—the place the child
of New York’s Parks commissioner once called
Sing-Sing for beasts, where elephants and wild
cats, bears and rhinos were all jailed,
sliced into strips of pacing fur, the shriek
and stink of monkeys everywhere, a mess—
it was not pastoral or picturesque,
and unprotected by a wilderness,
forced to face a hungry, hot stare,
we felt them close and thought, we are like this,
monkeys fighting, lions with twitching haunches,
their paunches swinging; and while we ate our lunches,
children circled round the chipped green benches,
taunting each other, “you belong in there.”

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers


Katherine Barrett Swett: “I have lived in New York City for my entire life. I was born in the same hospital where my children were born and teach at the same school where I was a student. These facts make me that rare creature, a provincial New Yorker. I like to write about the intimate aspects of New York life, not about ambition or skyscrapers, but about caged animals, anonymous ailanthus trees, obscure museums. To someone like me, New York can seem as small, as intimate and as unexpected as a brief poem. How do you make sense of chaos? You divide it into lines, what the city fathers called a grid plan.”

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