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‘Polar Bears, Auckland Zoo, Summer 1963’

Dark mucky eyes.  Muzzles pant, sniff air, mad

with the scent of humans, or seals.  I hold

my toffee apple and dangle a red

jandalled foot through bars above their pit. Bears

sway  in sync, contained in white, a concrete

code for snow.  Polar bears attack only

when hungry, or provoked—I imagine

blood,  shreds of skin, knuckles of bone frozen

in ice.  I lose it, bears tug-of- war and

shear it—wild.  Polarised by red on white,

one foot bare, I follow my mother who

says, ‘Don’t tell your father.’ Appetite gone

I glimpse a misty wall loom.  Does it come

to divide my vast, dazzling dreamed of land?


jandal – colloquial New Zealand = thong/casual footwear



Cherllisha Silva lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand

“This poem was written in response to Francine Helena’s open workshop ‘Dear Zoo—Writing Poems about Rare and Exotic Animals.  We were asked to write about an encounter, real or imagined, with  rare and exotic animals and to evoke the essence of the animal. The experience was engaging (like an animal) and fun and every workshop poet magically connected to a different animal.”


  • Mel Denham

    I love this revised version, Cherllisha! Really apt visions of ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ (am I right in recalling that’s what the Maori name for New Zealnd roughly means?) in the new last line. And ‘I lose it’ is great: it really pivots the poem into the wild second section.

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Image Credits:

Image credit: Don Harrison