Several years ago, I went to the zoo. The zoo used to be a guilty pleasure for me. I knew that it was terrible and that the animals were locked in too-small cages and were sad and depressed but I liked to see them. Now zoos just make me really, really sad because I realize how incredibly selfish it is and I cannot pretend anymore but there was this one time that I remember vividly.
I was at the Como zoo in early spring in Minneapolis. The weather wad barely warm yet and all of the animals were either still hibernating or not moving around too much. Except for the tigers. There were two of them, a couple, I think. I watched them for quite some time. They were playing with an old basketball, walking along a fallen tree and generally behaving like big overgrown house cats, rolling on their backs in the brown grass and tumbling with one another.
I was mesmerized. There was a little place to sit and press your nose up against the glass and watch them from above. Their habitat was on a lower level but there were all sorts of trees and places for them to jump us and move around. All of a sudden, without warning, one of the tigers started walking toward me. She climbed up the cement blocks and ended up on my level, where she placed her nose against the glass, opposite my own nose, which was pressed up against the glass too.
I could hardly stand it. There was a shiver of terror that skittered up my spine as I realized how close that I was to this mystical creature. I took in her colors, the shabbiness of the dirty fur near her stomach a sharp contrast the the bright orange on her back. Her whiskers that twitched, her pink nose. I could almost feel her breath. We stared into each other’s eyes.
What took my breath away (I hadn’t realized that I was holding my breath until she walked away) was the color of her eyes and how she looked at me. I felt so special, looking into those deep green eyes. I knew that she was singling me out and that she knew that I was someone who “knew.”
I would later tell that story as if I had met a celebrity. So proud that this animal had chosen to spend a minute looking into my eyes. She gave me some of her power that afternoon and now, as I look back on a poem that I wrote years ago during a bad breakup, it seems particularly relevant as I recall the time that I literally stared a tiger in the eye.
you just squeezed the juice right outta me