Excerpts > Fall 2004
Paul Ruffin

To the Celibate

It is your choice, and no one will fault
you for choosing as you have. But recall
that beyond the magnificence of your room,
your books and paintings,
glassware and rich mahogany,
the china bath with golden handles,
the color and light and sound
that rival all nature can offer,
beyond your burning dreams of this life,
your head filled with enormous learning,
beyond the riches of this cloister,
you are bone and flesh, designed to breed
and die, no less than the purest holy man,
no more than the lowly oyster.

The Animal at the Zoo
Speaks of His Keeper

Here I am sleek as an otter but not one,
My nose swept out, down, and up,
bulbed properly, and sharp in any wind.
My ears lie mostly flat against my head,
I raise them when I need to.
I cannot read the sign on the post
outside my cage that tells what I am.
I am what I am.

A man with foul breath and teeth
the color of my belly fur
dutifully brings my food and water
and daily cleans my cage.
I dine on fish and crunchy nuggets.

Days when the sun is right
through the trees I can see
it dance far off on the bay
but that light might well be
the flash of a distant star
for what it means to me.

Born here, what I remember
of sunlit shores and forage,
whizzing like a brown bullet
through glass-clear water
into schools of shattering fish,
I do not remember at all.
I cannot explain this.

But the man who feeds me
might know. He has books.
Some days I see him reading
from a dark book on a bench
while he has his sandwich and drink.

I think he might be religious,
the book comforting to him.
Some days I see him looking
through the same trees toward
the dancing sunlight on the bay.

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