Selected Monsters

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.”

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