Djuna Barnes

Creatures in an Alphabet

When hovering, the Hummingbird
Is always going home (it’s said).
By flying in a single spot
It’s striving fast to think it’s not.

With cloven lip, with baleful eye, 
The Camel wears the caliph high.
But though he do the master’s will,
He himself’s his habit still.

Why is it the Donkey haws,
And backs away (the mule) because
Although it hasn’t said it’s who,
It’s practicing solfeggio.

The reason that the Elephant
is both detained and yet at ease,
Is because it is four trees
That the Lord forgot to plant.

The Fish, the Fish, how is he caught?
With grave intent, or so we thought;
Yet with what a flattened look
It goes fishing, without hook.

The trim Giraffe, on ankles slight,
Dips its crown in pale moonlight;
But what it poles for, none can say ---
It’s much too up and high away.

The Hippo is a wading junk,
A sort of Saratoga trunk
With all its trappings on its back,
Through which the birds of passage peck.

When from mischief interdict,
The Imago perfected rise,
And lays its dool at Heaven’s Gate,
Then in this alphabet it is.

Though it be loud with auguries
Of summer sun, and happy days;
Nonetheless the Blue Jay is
Lined with insect agonies.

The Kinkajou, the hanging sloth,
Or else any that looks uncouth,
Aren’t they somewhat upside down?
Or are they merely three of both?

Horrid hunger is the cause,
That opens up the Lion’s jaws;
Yet what it tears apart for meat
Is merely what its victims ate.

In the zoo the Monkeys screech
At any dainty out of reach;
Yet let a corpulence be found,
They whack it madly to the ground.

If ascension is your hope,
Ride not the (Nigor) (antelope)
But mount the springbok for the run;
It jumps straight up, like hot popcorn.

When musing on the Ocelot,
Or on the panther’s hurling tail,
One wonders how such stealth is caught,
And how it be the cats prevail.

If among itself it go,
(As the Peacock’s said to do),
With all it’s thousand eyes ajar,
Is it itself it’s looking for?

Now for quidnunc, now for Quail,
(One runs off, the others rail, 1);
But what about? It ends the same ---
An old man’s titter, a young man’s game.

What of a Raccoon, animal?
With visor down (or domino).
When at ombre or quadrille,
Will it vail and let you know?

The seal, she lounges like a bride,
Much too docile, there’s no doubt;
Madame Récamier, on side,
(If such she has), and bottom out.

“Tyger, Tyger!” --- Who wrote that?
You won’ take it with your hat,
Nor lure it with a golden cage;
It won’t leap its master’s page.

Unicorn, the one-horned beast
Mistranslated from the start,
(See Deuteronomy, at least),
An upright, but a much vex’d art.

Now of the Vesper Wasp beware,
Its butt and bust hang by an hair,
Its sting’s a death; otherwise
It’s riggish in its enterprise.

---Somewhat sullen, many days,
The Walrus, is a cow that neighs
Tusked, ungainly, and windblown,
It sits on ice, and alone.

As there was nothing more to say,
The X has crossed himself away.
And as there’s nothing new to prove,
He marked his exit with his love.

A bale of hair, the Yak he be,
His bitter butter minged in tea;
With all his craggy services,
His lowly life Himalayan is.

spoken = Heather C. Liston