the zookeeper

inside a zookeeper, well inside him is his mind, and inside that there is a zoo, which is a little different than the other zoo, mostly because the zookeeper also keeps other things in his mind, like dreams and the things his mother said about him as a child, but he only remembers a few things that his mother said to him, like the time he was digging in the sand at the beach and his mother inquired why he didn't go collect shells instead, yes, this had puzzled him, something that still puzzles him to this day, but, regardless, that beach was right next to his zoo, which, for some reason, was devoid of animals at all, in fact, it was a rather clean zoo and also an endless one each filled with rather realistic foliage and terrain. the visitors were not all that enthusiastic to visit the zoo, but the owner, who had recently died, had left the zoo a never-ending supply of money, or at least the owner had left an inexhaustible idea behind that produced an endless amount of money, something about the relationship between the sun and the moon and the language we often use when we are caught in awe of these two celestial globes that seem to be so integral to our sense of time and beauty, and the zookeeper often spoke to his wife of how beautiful the moon is when the night is barely foggy, and the moon seems to get caught a little in the fog, which scared him during the day, but for some reason, the fog was much more bearable at night, almost like a sister sitting next to a sister on a couch, it's much more bearable to see someone not alone with someone who is also not alone with them, someone who is not unlike them, someone who also perhaps has the same childhood home in their mind, one that they imagine a bit the same, but perhaps a bit differently as well, someone who would absolutely agree that the childhood home wouldn't be the childhood home without the sunflowers that grew in the side yard, but perhaps she might disagree with you about the size of the front living room window, but not the sound of the tree that scratches on the upstairs bedroom, and not the way father would amble up the stairs when he thought everyone was asleep. no, we definitely agree on that. we definitely know that dad would mumble to himself about how much he hated how the animals would bite and nip at his hands, how he rubbed and circled his hands inside his hands instead of using the banister, how sometimes he left the door ajar and we could hear how he hated the hyenas the most, how he despised the serpents and reptiles a little less, and after some time, when mother had softened him, he would spell the names of the bears and the rabbits, he would tell her his plan to break them free and take them out to the forest in the next division over, build a small log cabin out of logs, and we would listen to the sound of the river, which is how we liked to describe his voice, a constant low gurgle in the night, and we always fell asleep before the river did, and the river was always gone in the morning, as if it were a dream or as if we had imagined the whole thing, as if the river only came at the brink of our minds, and on our first night out of the house, we could not sleep, we had left the window open to hear the passing of cars at some speed of wind, but wind doesn't seem to pop in the same way that a river does, doesn't seem to wash things away in the same way, and we turned in bed and looked at one another and said I can't sleep either, until we intricately piled the dishes in the sink enough for the water to wash slowly back and forth down the stack, we slept lightly and hardly at all, but we slept and dreamed of our zookeeper walking the walkways of the zoo, crawling into cages to extract lost animals, teaching others how to avoid hurting the animal's feelings who are already going through a hard time being in such a small space, feeling sorry that he hasn't had the time to devise a plan to free the animals, wondering if the animals are really any better off in the wild anyway, wondering if the animals will have some sort of violence upon them no matter where they are or what they are, wondering if this world has anything better to offer than a small window of time to reconcile, wondering if they even think about the window, wondering about the people who wash the glass windows between the animals and the patrons, indeed the zookeeper wondered about a great many things as he worked at the endless zoo, wondering when he will be able to finish his shift and go home in the dead of night to the soft hair and whispers of his wife, wondering if he could find his way home in the dark and the fog, wondering why he was afraid of the fog so much, just completely puzzled at why it frightened him so much, I mean, it wasn't as if he ever had any particular experience with the fog that would make him so afraid, but sometimes he just walked into it and became paralyzed, never really recognizing it for what it was until he was in it, and there he was in it so afraid of it that he wandered around in it feeling nothing but afraid, and he often came home late rubbing his hands because he had been so frightened and lost, and he never cried, never felt anything well up inside of him, in fact, it was the complete opposite, as if he had been sapped, as if the fog had spigotted his heart and left the faucet on, like a slow drip into the sink, only to be lost down a drain, and he came home almost feeling nothing, feeling complete nothing inside as he walked up the stairs to his wife in their room, where he muttered and muttered to work up some embers of feeling inside his heart, where he spoke for long hours into the night to kindle something to care for or cry for, suffer for, live for, and in the deepest hours of the night he would feel a short shiver of sadness, often the first emotion one feels having come back from the brink of emotional depth, often because it is the slowest and weakest and coldest emotion that builds slowly enough not to shock the heart into total foreclosure, and he was comforted by this sadness, so much that he would often immediately fall asleep and begin to dream the tiniest dreams, a moment at most, a small tooth for a moment, then later a twig, just someone stepping on a twig, nothing more, nothing less, or someone yawning, and between each of these tiny dreams were long moments of nothing, long stretches of nothing.


( for a chamber cantata written by david jones and performed by the Hear & Now Ensemble at Rice University, click on this link: the zookeeper )