for Barbara Gowdy
In Florence, circa 1460, Cosimo de’ Medici enclosed a mixed group of animals in a pen and invited Pope Pius II to attend the spectacle, which was meant to determine which beast was the most ferocious: the lion, the fighting bull, the bloodhound, the gorilla or perhaps the giraffe—an animal then known in Europe as a camelopard.
“Holiness, with these monsters in close quarters we’re sure to have a brawl.” But the new Caesars lacked some Roman secret—razors in the stable straw, or a bonus bout of starvation, glass goads in the anus or a goon squad of trainers who knew how to crack a good whip. So this static, comic créche—this flop— a Peaceable Kingdom with cud-chewing bull, ape absently wanking, lion asleep, bloodhound’s limbs twitching in some wet dream of a hind’s stotting fetlocks, and the giraffe, free of wounds, hunched by the fence, its trembling yellow ass not enough to coax an assault. Pius cleared his throat. “The Florence heat, I suppose,” he yawned. “I’ve seen sportier feats at a Synod. When’s dinner?” Trailing hoots and loutcalls, the mob drained out at the exits, the box seats emptied, the media crews taxied elsewhere, till finally Cosimo’s bloodpit was a high-shelved archive of human refuse— handbills, tickets, peanut shells, all set to motion by a new wind, as if performing for that pen of blinking inmates, who remained there . . . still remain in the blinding empirical lens of the sun and uranium rainfall, centuries on. “At eight. Expect exotic cuts. And excellent wine.”