David Beach


Wellington Zoo 17

A jeep was ‘bogged’ near the African
Village, a humorous touch, visitors served
some safari angst, and thereby too brought
to consider what it might be like to
encounter the zoo’s animals in their
natural environment, though this hadn’t
quite taken with the young couple standing
beside the jeep who rather had been seized
by the romantic associations of
safaris and appeared for the moment
to have lost interest in any beast
except the beast with two backs, were propping
each other up so ardently that they
could fairly have been urged ‘Get a cage’.


Wellington Zoo 18

Of modest acreage, the zoo blurred
disconcertingly into the wider world
of independent, free, reasoning beings: as
when the crowd at the adjacent sports ground
roared; or if one looked east, to nearby
Melrose, and the intimacy of a
hillside of humans facing a hillside
of animals; looking to the north, too,
where the city was caged by hills, sea and
sky: so that ‘the best little zoo in the
world’ — a riff on Lonely Planet’s ‘coolest
little capital’ — seemed also a
facetious rejoinder to it, an
apter way offered to describe the whole.


Wellington Zoo 38

The zoo was a place of boxes within
boxes, particularly at feeding
time — and while a keeper strewed fruit and
vegetables about the baboon enclosure,
the troop, thirty or more, close-confined in
a holding pen, were demonstrating an
eagerness to exit which suggested
that ‘to go from a smaller to a larger
box’ could stand as a definition of
freedom — and the rush out, too, a glorious
casting off of shackles, no less for
the scramble for the food, understood
as the looting hardly to be avoided
immediately after liberation.


Wellington Zoo 39

The ostrich, on the hunt for bugs, appeared
out to earn the epithet ‘the poor
zoo’s elephant’, its neck a worthy
alternative marvel to the trunk, such
strength and flexibility shown as the
no-nonsense killer delivered rapid-
action, bunker-busting pecks, the slaughter
upon the bug population so grievous
that for an adequate comparison one
might feel drawn to whales and their plankton
eating, even while coming to the view
that with the ground at the birds’ feet a
perpetual smorgasbord the economic
case for ostriches was unassailable.



David Beach’s most recent book of sonnets, Scenery and Agriculture, was published by Victoria University Press in 2012.

Beach writes: “The staff at Wellington Zoo are wondering what has happened to one of their most regular visitors. An efficient system eluded me and while it wasn’t quite the case that there are fifty poems in the sequence, and so fifty trips to the zoo, I did seem to be jumping on the bus to Newtown inordinately often — this was certainly a very nice excursion, and a great opportunity to break the cardinal rule of writing about animals that you don’t anthropomorphise them.”