Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CLOSING TIME AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO, by KAREN SWENSON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

CLOSING TIME AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The keepers / walk among galapagos turtles
Last Line: In the san diego dusk.
Subject(s): Caregivers; Galapagos Islands; Turtles; Zoos; Tortoises

The keepers
walk among Galapagos turtles,
pummel their domed backs
with short sticks
in twilight at
this furthest edge of America
and herd them
to their cement-block shelter.

Looking like World War II helmets,
abandoned after a battle on the grass,
they wear white numbers on their backs
neat as license plates - 5, 16, 21 -
these who once could not be numbered.

A keeper's rapping
brings out an old man's neck,
the skin hanging in loose folds,
brings out a beaked head naked as a baby bird's,
magnified terribly by those enormous eyes.

And in that skull
hard as a hazel shell,
years are not numbered by the names of cities
or made things like religions or wars.
Memory is the abrasion of rock and sea,
the rub of the two hands of earth's time.

The last one locked in its shelter,
we flock to our licensed shells -
our headlight tunneling
the distance of our vision
in the San Diego dusk.

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