Poem of the Week / The Gory Details of Marius the Giraffe

It’s February at the Copenhagen zoo: a demonstration in dissection.

Reuters

A Demonstration In Dissection

Jane Medved

Look children, no one can take their own skin off,
we have to peel it for you,
and this, a puppet, a carnival, a drawing in a book,
and the crowd, mesmerized.

A little girl in her purple coat
talking to the cameraman who’s kneeling,
because once you kill a baby giraffe,
he isn’t that tall anymore.

Green gloves, a knife smiling from a white sleeve,
and a folding table covered with plastic.
It’s February at the Copenhagen zoo:
A demonstration in dissection.

In three hours we will show you
how to cut apart an animal you’ve never seen
this close before. Haven’t you always
wanted to carve up a giraffe and peek

at what’s underneath? A toddler in a white
fur hat, blurry on his father’s shoulders.
Children pay attention. This is a lesson.
A cobbled path down wet concrete.

Soon lions will eat the most delightful meat.
It is almost recognizable. And here, look at his
splayed out legs, his ridiculous knobs,
his famous neck, his storybook ears, his silly, delicate feet.

***

From May 11 to May 13, the English-language Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University will host "Second Site – Displacement, Revelation," an international conference open to the public with the participation of distinguished writers from abroad, faculty and students – among them Jane Medved. 

Medved hails from Chicago and holds a degree in film, literature and theater from the University of Michigan. She worked as a second assistant director for feature films, financing her move to Israel with Tom Cruise’s blockbuster “Risky Business.” Here she has directed documentaries for American television, has published poems and translations from Hebrew in the United States and elsewhere, and is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the Bar-Ilan online literary magazine. Currently she lives in Jerusalem with her husband, four children and two shedding dogs. Her chapbook “Olam, Shana, Nefesh,” forthcoming in June from the Finishing Line Press, is part of her thesis for the Bar-Ilan program.

In February, Marius, a young male giraffe – a kosher animal, incidentally – was euthanized at the Copenhagen Zoo because his line is over-represented in the gene pool of the European Endangered Species program. The giraffe was dissected as a public educational event; a Reuters photographer captured the moment that inspired this poem.

Medved, in an email, writes: “I read the news story when it came out, and was absolutely horrified. I wanted to use the writing process as a way to explore and define what exactly was so disturbing about the incident.”

The speaker alternates between two different voices. One is a didactic “we”: “Look, children … we will show you ... Haven’t you always wanted…” The other is a non-involved observer – a camera – showing what is there in the photo: “A little girl in a purple coat talking to the cameraman, who is kneeling … “A toddler in a white fur hat, blurry on his father’s shoulders.”

Two stunning images connect to the sound pattern. At “Green gloves, a knife smiling from a white sleeve,” internal rhyme and assonance appear with “green,” “sleeve,” “seen,” “peek,” “underneath,” while the denatured description of the giraffe’s skin —“A cobbled path down wet concrete” – nails the poem into a set of perfect end-rhymes that sum it up: concrete, meet, feet.

Musings:
*In the poet’s words, “What exactly is so disturbing about the incident?”

Debbi Cooper