Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ORANGUTAN REHAB, by KAREN SWENSON



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ORANGUTAN REHAB, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A circle of unbarbered redheads round
Last Line: Limb toward a cultivated taste for freedom.
Subject(s): Animals; Apes; Freedom; Indonesia; Gorillas; Chimpanzees; Gibbons; Orangutans; Liberty; Dutch East Indies


A circle of unbarbered redheads round
a blue plastic milk pail hoard bananas
in hairy fists, hold tin cups concentrating -
admonished children wary of spills.

On sultry afternoons, officials teased
these caged exhibits of their power, who
became accustomed to three squares, a roof.

Here, after they've been schooled to make leaf nests,
avoid the poison berry, break
the habit of captivity, they're left in
the jungle - city kids at camp afraid of crickets.

But twice a day they're brought bananas, milk,
until they feed themselves, die of snake bite
or the fall they couldn't have in a cage.

Bananas peeled and stored in her cheek,
she holds by hand and foot to trunk and vine
bombarding me with chunks of termite nest.
That ammunition spent, she craps in her cupped

palm and tries again, observing me
with no more malice than my son japanning
the kitchen wall with pureed sweet potatoes,

then sways as you or I did as a child
from the school jungle gym in a daydream.
A sun shaft halos carrot red
fur around her skull as she

selects a path, with long arms swings
thirty feet above the ground from limb to
limb toward a cultivated taste for freedom.





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