Alan Dugan: On the Liquidation of Zoology

We put the mountains in the valleys,
the oceans in the deserts,
and paved the world flat.
The botanical trash was burned,
and life put in its place: zoos.
In this way we cleaned up
in honor of the flat out
continuity of the green glass sea
and walked on it like Christ
in horror of the bad old days
when any kind of life ran wild
and men did as they pleased.


Not exactly as cheery or inspirational as Mary Oliver, no, but gorgeous just the same, and true.

Alan Dugan is normally not a nature or environmental poet (his love poem, “Love Song: I and Thou” is worth the cost of whatever collection you find it in), but when he is, he’s good. This one reminds me of the sad spectacle of a city’s boxed trees: the anemic, sickly specimens in planters for decoration and shade and, sometimes, to reduce air pollutants. Urban trees are good things. They have all kinds of benefits and I’m glad they’re there. But sometimes, when I see them, I am uncomfortably reminded of a tiger in a small zoo cage. A box is not a tree’s natural habitat, and it will never flourish in one.

Why is it that we need to corral life into tame, domesticated pockets?

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