Alone, Behind Protective Bars

He’s old with gray at the temples, dark eyes below broody brow, a paunch; he must weigh close to 500 pounds, and he wants me to wave my arms. I can tell because he waves his and nods at me. Or maybe it’s to the man standing a few paces behind me, arms folded and watching. Maybe it’s not me at all. Still, this patriarch of fabricated jungle juts his chin, and his eyes command. I’ve succumbed to lesser advances by simians of the human kind in other kinds of bars. A bad joke, I know, but I’m twenty-four in this poem, and have a lot yet to learn. When the great ape knuckles forward, so he’s plastering breath on the plexiglass striped with metal, he looks down at me, and I am suddenly afraid of the clear, steady gaze that shouldn’t be and step back and turn and when I do, I turn right into the chest of the other watcher, the man I don’t know who was behind me, and my hands go to his chest, and his hands go to my wrists, and he holds me this way for an instant, and in that instant, I am totally immobile. I can do nothing, but look up into this man’s face, a face I can’t remember now, but I can feel the fragility of my wrists, the helplessness, the heat, the smell of dung, the moistness inside me that I can’t control. I don’t say anything; I don’t even breathe. I’m caught there like a gazelle, all sinew and stupidity, and when the man lets go, he smiles, baring bright teeth and says, “You should be more careful,” and pushes me, so my back hits the glass where the great ape is pressing his massive shoulder, and I fall against it, and he turns his head as I turn mine. I look up; he looks down. His lips cover his teeth and I can see them quivering. It’s almost as if he can talk.

Laura McCullough | Mudlark No. 32
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